Tuesday, May 07, 2019

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript, Part 6 - Should You Ever Rewrite Your Previously Published Novels

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript
Part 6
 Should You Ever Rewrite Your Previously Published Novels
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series indexed here:


With all the "remakes" of old movies, and of course the long history of stage plays being re-mounted by new players, how could any writer resist the urge to completely rewrite the earliest versions of their works? Well, some do resist, and with good reason. Others dig in and do a complete rewrite, and others just polish out the typos or change wording for smoother reading.

With New York Times Bestselling writers retrieving their rights and self-publishing their backlist titles in e-book, paper and sometimes audiobook, you have to wonder how close the newly re-published version may be to the original.

Some writers (me, for example) consider the original (sans typos, of course) is valuable in its original form because of the awkward sentences, dated values, unskillful scene cut-aways, drifting point of view, run-on-descriptions, and other mechanical errors.

In among those mechanical writing craft errors lies the key to the charm, vibrancy, inspiration, and maybe even the "message" or theme.

These older novels, for any writer, become an embarrassment, but the more-so with a series that has become a towering success, an icon of the field.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's first published Mass Market novel, Sword of Aldones, became, for her very cringe-worthy. With time, the novel that had been published (and reprinted a lot as more and more Darkover novels were published to increasing acclaim) became not at all the novel she wanted as part of the Darkover series.

So when the opportunity arose, she rewrote Sword of Aldones into a novel that could form a cornerstone for the series she had been trying to write. And so, she retitled the story -- which had morphed considerably -- to be Sharra's Exile.

Sharra's Exile covers the same time period, but is not at all the same novel. So I recommend reading both.

Reading this long series, in publication order, gives you a good understanding of why the first published novel needed to be rewritten -- and then, actually, re-created as a different novel.

Many writers of series, especially sets of novels written over a long number of years (with many other projects between them) -- series not written as a single story, but many stories flung against the tapestry of a common background, are going to suffer from having the early novels that enchanted so many readers just not stand the test of time.

Even if a writer's craftsmanship does not improve much over the decades (because it didn't need much improvement), the writer herself will mature, grow, and the readers will likewise be growing older.

Original fans will be pointing to the earliest novel to try to hook younger people on the series -- but it won't work.

If the time span is thirty or forty years, that is about two generations. And the world has changed.

If you are writing contemporary Romance, well, suddenly your novels are Historical Romance -- pre-cell-phone. Or pre-smartphone.

Historical Romance novels which had a genuine historical setting will suddenly seem "dated" because the Characters' attitudes and problems are not the attitudes and problems of the current teen readership. For older readers, the attitudes of the Historical Characters are just fine -- they fit the ostensible period, and how people thought then. But for younger readers, those Historical attitudes are offensive, wrong, illegitimate, and just plain not-fun-to-read.

Futuristic Romance is even trickier. The current readership is firmly convinced that today's attitudes and values will become more firmly entrenched, more widely respected, and taken for-granted in the future.

An older readership would know better, having read the Greek Classics, Roman Classics, and novels from the 1800's and so forth -- social progress surges and retreats, staggers, and zig-zags, and never permeates all nooks and crannies of a society at once.

If you are working in an interstellar society, you can lure your readers into suspending disbelief by showing how cultures on isolated planets tend to diverge -- months travel from each other. And Aliens are the wild card.

We have discussed what to do about FAILED writing projects, but the bigger problem is what to do about successes.

We have a new example of approaches to the problems posed by success in the famous, ST:ToS fanzine series about Spock's illegitimate son, Sahaj, a series now retitled Gematria.

Buy it here: https://sahajcontinues.com/ebook/the-forging-2018-version/


Gematria 11.8 - Continues the story of the developing relationship between Spock and his now 11.85 year-old-son, Sahaj.  389 pages; 189,685 words FanQ winner, 1978, best writer, best artist (Alice L. Jones) $10.00

Join the Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook:


Many Romance novels today focus on the "Single Mom" -- after divorce or widowhood, or perhaps just unmarried, with a child to raise.

Most of those Single Mom Romance novels focus on young women struggling to launch a career, maybe doing college courses on the side, aspiring to go to Law School, or become a doctor. The Sahaj fan novels focus on Spock, Second Officer, Science Officer, top of a career he finds satisfying and rewarding, suddenly discovering he has a young son who has had a traumatic beginning to his life, and whose abusive Vulcan mother is now dead after trying to use the son as a weapon to murder Spock.

Spock's struggles to deal with his mostly Vulcan son, and all the human elements in that son's early years, all the ancient Vulcan tendencies left to flourish without a modern Vulcan upbringing,

The original fanzine publication of the novel, THE FORGING, hit Star Trek fanzine readers like a tornado, and created a new alternate universe for other writers to play in (with permission of the author). The Forging won fanzine fandom's highest award the year it came out -- the Fan Q. And it well deserved it, too!

So decades later, with all the modern online tools available, and old printings on paper now deteriorating, becoming collector's items, it was time to issue Sahaj in electronic form. New fans were curious.
But what to do?  It just didn't read as smoothly as it once had, and wouldn't relate to the new readers.  

With the support of the Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook, Leslye Lilker set out to rewrite and upgrade this famous novel to speak to the modern audience.

I think she succeeded.  And in the process managed not to obscure the fresh-faced-earnestness of the mostly-Vulcan kid fostered by a human family.

You might not understand this single, stand-alone, novel as a Romance, but the series will deal head-on with Sahaj's Vulcan arranged marriage, and his ambitions for his life and career.

The Forging sets the tone for Spock's desperate efforts to raise his boy -- after his own conflicted upbringing.  He is so determined to do right by Sahaj that he messes up, big time for every major success.

One core element in every Romance is the "backstory" of the Characters. Where did they get these emotional problems?  

Following Sahaj from his inception (angst fraught as it was) through his urgent/earnest 5-year-old's needs being filled by humans, gives us the perspective to understand the Human/Alien love story innate in his Vulcan family choosing him a Vulcan bride.  

Just how Vulcan does Sahaj want to be?  And why?

The author says of the rewrite: 

I decided early on that the story centered around the forging of relationships: Sahaj's relationship with himself and every other character; Spock's relationship with his son and how being a father changes his relationship with everyone else. ; with Jim and Bones' forging of a new relationship with everyone else and a smattering of Sarek and Amanda thrown in.  In short, the events in this novel set the stage for everything that is going to come in the future.
------end quote------

That's why I want you all to read this novel.  As with the first-published Darkover novel, it sets a foundation for a modern adult story.  And that is why the original (to be re-read and cherished) had to be updated, even rewritten, to firm up the foundation of the broader work.

This updated, polished, refined, edition of The Forging is more insightful than the original.  This edition adds depths and facets to Sahaj while showcasing all the original charm that captivated a generation of fanfic readers. 

I can't heap too much praise on this updated edition.  The rest of the series is likewise being organized and re-issued as a single, long, complex, work which beautifully showcases the way skills increase over decades.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


1 comment:

  1. I'm currently revising for self-publication a novel from a defunct publisher. The only significant changes I'm making are cutting back graphic details in the sex scenes so that the book will no longer be "erotic romance" but just "steamy." Otherwise, I'm reading for minor errors and fixing punctuation. (This publisher had what I saw as an irrational aversion to commas.) This one is recent enough that there won't be any jarringly anachronistic technology.

    When the new publisher of FROM THE DARK PLACES, a horror novel with romantic and Lovecraftian elements, was preparing to release it, I changed all the details placing it explicitly in the 1970s in order to set it in the "indefinite past." That's because I was working on a next-generation sequel, and to have it set in the present, the timeline wouldn't allow the earlier novel to take place in the 1970s. So I wrote the sequel (currently under consideration by the publisher) to be set in the "indefinite present" -- technology contemporary as of the time of writing.

    One of the remaining "orphaned" novels that publisher is planning to re-release would require so much rewriting to update the technology that I plan to suggest simply putting a note at the beginning that it takes place in the time period when originally written.