Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Rewriting a Novel

I mentioned in Saturday’s post – Origins of a Novel – that there was another completed novel that I wasn’t sure what to do with.  I have actually been rewriting that novel, transforming it from an American-set thriller to a British one.  I’m going slow, finding that things an American setting allowed me work not so well on British soil, and so I’m having to find new ways of expressing them.

Beautiful Vermont vs.

Here’s the thing.  American landscape is epic, vast, and in places untamed.  It is conceivable that in that vast wilderness there might be a secret laboratory unknown to the rest of the world.  Try and put an unknown lab in the British landscape – we’ve pretty much tarmacked over it all, there is nowhere for it to be – so I’ve had to retcon certain aspects of the beginning of the work.  Such work has meant that later material won’t work either, so I’ll have to reconsider that as well.  This means I’ll end up with a novel inspired by another novel, which bears some similarities to its progenitor, but also major differences.

Beautiful Britain

There are plus sides to this.  I was never entirely comfortable writing about American landscapes and social customs, especially amongst a group of teenagers.  Okay, I’ve seen enough American teen movies and TV series to bluff it, and probably bluff it well, but in my head it lacked true authenticity.  By switching my action to a British boarding school, I’m at home.  I know how these kids act.  I know how they speak.  Already the work is 80% better. 

Then there are downsides.  The original form had a trajectory I liked, a lot – an awful lot, actually – but it just won’t work here, in a British setting.  Where I could have my cast of characters walk through twenty miles of untamed wilderness, alone, hungry, and running for their lives in rural Vermont, I can’t have them do it here.  In Britain we’re never more than five miles from the nearest road in the wildest parts of the land.  In a place that would accommodate everything I need it to accommodate, we’re never going to be more than a quarter of a mile from a road.  So where originally two hundred pages were filled with wilderness trek, and knowing I can’t do it in Britain, it begs the question: how do I fill two those hundred pages now? 

Sometimes writing fiction we’re surprised at how an answer we thought eluding us was already in the text.  Subconsciously we’d already planted it.   I don’t know if the answer to my question is already in the text I’ve written, or rather rewritten, or if I’m going to have to do something very different.   Such doubts scare me, having such lack of knowledge of my own material is almost enough to make me shut the project down…. But I love the characters and their interaction, and I love the idea, and quite often before I go to sleep I find myself thinking about it.  So I have to write it, to see what it can be.  It might just be something big.

So I’ll keep writing and see where it goes. 

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