Rewrites – one reason why short books often have stronger stories


Finally! I’ve just finished the first draft to the new “Act Normal” book:

“Act Normal And Make Everything Fair”

It’s a political satire for 5-9 year olds, so it’ll be fun to see how that’s received as we gear up for the general election in the UK.

Now, I’m facing two jobs: One is illustrating the book.  The other is re-writing.

And frankly, re-writing can wait until next week.  It’s going to be a lot more fun and more relaxing to create some pretty pictures than to dive back into what I’ve written looking for problems.

There was an interesting article on the Guardian site the other day about why short stories are so great (the “Act Normal” books are aimed at younger readers, so at about 60 pages, they’re designed to be fun but manageable), but there’s one aspect the writer of that article didn’t mention:

Rewriting a full length adult or young adult book is a mammoth job, and you can risk breaking the story if you do it too heavy-handedly.  Shorter pieces are more malleable.  You can “see”, in your head the whole story, and think about it as a complete tale – which you can’t do with a longer book.  So it’s quite possible, as you write, to leave out bits, change the story and put in references to things you intend to work in later.

Once the first draft is done, you can go back and re-shape to bring it all together.

For example, in “Act Normal And Make Everything Fair”, I’ve got two very different strands to the story.  They’re very connected in my head, but at the end of the first draft, I find I haven’t really nailed that connection on paper.

However, I know because it’s a short book that I will be able to go back and re-think the way that connection feels without damaging the overall story.

In a longer book, that would have been a real problem.  I tend to work quite hard on structure, and unlike many writers, I know almost exactly what’s going to happen in my stories before I start writing.

Most of the time, I even write a sentence explaining what happens on every single page of the book.  This keeps my writing to the point and keeps the plot moving forward (which you need to do with a young audience) and it means that you don’t spend pages and pages waffling on about how pretty the landscape looks (I’m looking at you JRR Tolken).

I think of plot structure as architecture, and writing as building.  The time to work on the architecture is either before you start to lay the bricks, or after it’s all done and you find it needs remodeling.

But however bored or angry you become with the architecture when you’re actually building, you must concentrate on the bricks, and you change the layout at your peril!

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