Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Re-make, Re-model

By Elizabeth Coldwell (guest blogger)

A few weeks ago on this very blog, Bailey Bradford described her dilemma when hitting a stumbling block in her writing, and the steps she took to resolve the situation. She’s not alone. Ask any writer, and almost without exception they will have at least one half-finished novel sitting in a drawer or on their PC. We’ve all had what we thought were strong, original ideas with lots of potential, embarked on the first few chapters with great enthusiasm then, somewhere along the line, come to the conclusion that it just isn’t working. We’ve lost sympathy with the characters, the plot seems full of holes or we discover the clever twist ending we were so pleased to think up has already been done better by someone else. However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on what you’ve written entirely. Almost anything is salvageable. Forget about it for a while and turn your attention to something else. When you go back to your work with fresh eyes, you should be able to find a way of transforming it – or at least part of it – into something people will want to read.

If there are scenes you’re proud of, but the overall storyline is weak or really won’t stretch to novel length, you can cannibalise the parts you like. Plenty of e-publishers take novellas, which they generally require to be between 20,000 and 50,000 words long, and there’s always the short story market. One novel I was writing that somehow withered on the vine halfway through was eventually turned into four or five short stories and fantasy confessions for various different publishers. And with holiday-themed and seasonal anthologies becoming increasingly popular, it’s not difficult to rewrite a storyline so it takes place over Christmas, or the July 4th weekend.

It’s always a good idea to check publishers’ websites on a regular basis to see if they have themed anthologies in the pipeline, because many of them are looking for the same thing, but at different times. So if you’ve missed the deadline for one collection, another publisher may put out a call for a similar one six months later. Pressure of work meant I didn’t have time to finish a story with an older woman/younger man pairing in time to submit it to a particular anthology. When I had more time to devote to my fiction writing and discovered Total-e-bound were looking for cougar-themed material, I dusted off Something Within Him, and it found its way into their Cougars And Cubs collection.

The third, admittedly most time-consuming option, is to do whatever it takes to make the novel work. This might involve changing the setting, the characterisation or even the point of view from which the story is told. A good fifteen or more years ago, I started working on something which I intended to submit to the UK-based pulp fiction imprint that published my first ever novel, a paranormal offering called An Innocent Death (which appears to be currently available on eBay – though what isn’t these days?). The publisher bit the dust before I could finish the manuscript, so I shelved it, as I wasn’t aware of anyone else at the time who was looking for novels of that length (around 40,000 words). However, I always liked the concept behind it, which was that a woman was hypnotised and shown who she would become in a future life (this was based on something I read in an interview with hypnotist Paul McKenna, who’d actually put me under the influence at the press launch for his range of self-help videos a couple of months earlier – a very weird experience, I can tell you). In the novel, Annie, the heroine, saw herself in the body of a man, in a society which had been ravaged by ecological disaster. The original version had no real erotic content, but the situation had plenty of potential for Annie to enjoy sex both with her boyfriend in her Twenty-first century life and with a female partner whenever she was Jai, her male incarnation.

It soon became obvious what I’d written needed substantial changes to make it work. First, a viewpoint change from the third person to the first, to make Annie’s strange situation more immediate. Second, a radical personality transplant for her boyfriend. In the original, he was a struggling musician who was talented but lazy and liable to cheat on Annie. Now I was writing an erotic romance, he had to become more sympathetic (and acquire a hot bandmate along the way for some kinky threeway action...). Third, a move away from its original setting on a London rock scene which has changed beyond recognition since I penned the first draft, to New York and the bohemian environs of Greenwich Village. And finally, a change from the working title of Bodyswap (yawn!) to the more intriguing Someone Else’s Skin. I was very pleased with the final result – and so, to my delight, were Xcite Books, who accepted it for their e-book range.

So if you’ve got anything lurking in your files, unfinished and unloved, take it out and look at it again. You may very well find it is possible to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse, after all. And if you have any other suggestions for turning half-baked ideas into page turners, why not share them here? Your comments will be greatly appreciated...

Elizabeth Coldwell can be found in The (Really) Naughty Corner at

Cougars And Cubs is available at

Someone Else’s Skin is available at

BIO: Originally from South Yorkshire, Elizabeth Coldwell has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, only now she gets to people them with hot men. When she's not got her nose in a book, or trying to stop one or both of her cats from walking over her keyboard, she spends her time following her home town football team and baking the best brownies in East London.


Anny Cook said...

Wonderful post. I'm always remining my old bits and pieces for new ideas! And you're absolutely correct. Sometimes an idea just hasn't reached it's "time" when you first work on it.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Liz,

Sorry to be late in welcoming you to Beyond Romance. I really liked your post.

I see the wisdom in your advice. Unfortunately my writing seems to have incredible inertia. Once I've got a draft, it is quite difficult for me to make radical changes.

A year or so ago, though, I had an educational experience in this realm. I had written a short story (7K), erotica, about a M/M/F polyamorous relationship where the two guys were always fighting and ultimately they drive the woman away. I asked Claire at Total-E-Bound if she'd be interested in my expanding it to 15K so they could publish it. She expressed moderate interest but 1) wanted it to be M/F/M and 2) wanted me to change it from first person POV to third person.

I decided to tackle the challenge. It was quite hard, but what is amazing is that I ended up with a different story entirely. The initial premise was the same but the plot played out along different lines. And I was really quite pleased with the results (which were published last year as "Truce of Trust".

Thanks again!


Margaret West said...

I have half finished novels and I didnt think about turning them into a short novel. Great tips.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Hi, Elizabeth. Excellent exploration of the options we have in this regard! I don't think I have any tips to add, but I've used some of the same strategies you mention.

I guess the most major transformation I've indulged in was when I'd worked up an outline for a musical comedy (complete with the beginnings of the songs). When it became obvious this grandiose project wasn't going anywhere, I wrote a little 3,000-word story from the notes instead.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I was pointed to this post after writing about giving up on a manuscript on my blog. (

Very useful, thanks!

x Anna

Liz Coldwell said...

Thank you all for the comments, and thanks, Lisabet, for being so welcoming. I'm glad to hear my tips are proving useful, and I look forward to discovering that you've all polished up your half-finished fiction into real gems.


Post a Comment

Let me know your thoughts! (And if you're having trouble commenting, try enabling third-party cookies in your browser...)