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Old 06-20-2012, 12:02 AM   #1
Steven Lake
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How often do you "burn down" your stories?

For the uninitiated, to "burn down" a literary work is to take a fully or partially completed story, rip out all or a vast majority of it, reduce it to the originally envisioned core plot, and then start over again. Hence "burning it down".

I ask that because I've had to do that numerous times with one particular novel I've been working on, even going so far as to change the core plot several times along the way seeking just the right mixture to make the story work. It's not like trying an idea, failing, and giving up. This is basically razing the story down to the bones and trying again. I figure it's a fairly common thing, but how common, I guess, and to what degree, is my ultimate question.
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Old 06-20-2012, 02:05 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Steven Lake View Post
For the uninitiated, to "burn down" a literary work is to take a fully or partially completed story, rip out all or a vast majority of it, reduce it to the originally envisioned core plot, and then start over again. Hence "burning it down".

I ask that because I've had to do that numerous times with one particular novel I've been working on, even going so far as to change the core plot several times along the way seeking just the right mixture to make the story work. It's not like trying an idea, failing, and giving up. This is basically razing the story down to the bones and trying again. I figure it's a fairly common thing, but how common, I guess, and to what degree, is my ultimate question.
Man, I don't mean any disrespect, but maybe you didn't really mean to write what I just read. Maybe it was a misspeak.

You said you didn't fail and give up, but you said you "rip out all," and or "change the core plot."

I would say you started a new story.
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Old 06-20-2012, 06:53 AM   #3
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I think it depends on the writer and their technique. If you noticed Steven Lyle Jordan's recent posts he is making an outline, realized some issue and is reworking it all without beginning writing yet. Other writers have to 'explore' the idea or the characters before they figure out what the story is and/or the plot.

John Irving never starts writing until he has the perfect last line and then he works backwards.

Personally I've only written a few novels (none published) and have ripped out chapters and replaced them or rearranged them. I have never "burned down" a novel. I probably have done something similar to short stories but that's not nearly as impactful as with a novel (depending on how far along you are).

Good Luck!
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Old 06-20-2012, 08:07 AM   #4
Steven Lake
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Sea King, it's only failure if you give up on the story and throw it away. Rewrites, even full sized ones, are merely part of the process of development. As KennyC mentioned, some writers have to explore the story first before deciding if the route chosen is the right one. Not everyone can just crunch the entire story ahead of time. I usually work with a rough plot throughout the development and try different outcomes until I get one I like. Hence the fact that I sometimes have to rip a story down to its core and start over.

Ironically enough, I'm glad I've done that on a few books. The resulting final version has been far superior to the one that got scrapped. So there's really nothing with burning down a story and starting from scratching using the same core plot if it produces a better quality work in the end.
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Old 06-20-2012, 08:26 AM   #5
Steven Lyle Jordan
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As KennyC indicated, I've never "burned down" a novel. I specifically write a detailed outline so I won't burn down the writing later... that's why I recommend that process to all writers.

By the way, the outline KennyC mentioned that I restarted is fixed, much better than the previous one, and just requires further embellishment before I'm ready to start writing. Time spent in fixing: About a week.
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Old 06-20-2012, 05:34 PM   #6
Steven Lake
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I've done complete outlines like that before, but as with the old law of writing, "no plot outline ever survives the rough draft." Quite often I find that what sounded good in my outline doesn't quite work once its fleshed out. Hence the need periodically to go back in and completely redo whole sections, or sometimes the whole book. I also sometimes let the story wander on its own and see where it goes, because I've gotten some pretty impressive results doing that as well. ^_^
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Old 06-21-2012, 07:17 AM   #7
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I've never written a novel but with my short stories I would regularly completely discard* the first draft and re-write from scratch. What was good would usually re-surface and it would free me from trying to fix structural problems by tinkering with sentences.

*safely saved to disk of course. I didn't delete them, just re-write without referring to them.
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Old 06-21-2012, 07:29 AM   #8
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I toss chapters, I toss sub plots, I toss characters... but do not think I have ever "burned down" a story like you suggest.

I do not use an out line, I fall in with the camp that says "sit down, and write." I explore my way through story writing. Which means I probably have more tossed chapters then an out liner... but its the way I am wired to work.

For example I am currently writing book four in my series. I have about 30-35k written... but I plan to cut out an entire sub plot because it is to big. I will set it aside and turn it into book five. That will cut me back probably to 15-17k words and remove 2 major characters from the book. So I guess that is like burning down?
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Old 06-23-2012, 08:44 AM   #9
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As I wrote on another thread, initial reception to my second book indicates there are problems with the first half - say around 70k words. (It dragged.) I am currently planning to rewrite it. And since it is the first half, the core of the plot must remain in place in order that the second half, which was received very well, can remain in place.

I think your description of "burn down" applies here quite well, because my current intention is to change almost nothing about what happens, but to change only how it is told and perhaps the timing and emphasis of certain elements. As much as I dislike what I see as rote rules about "conflict" etc., I suspect that something like that is what I got wrong - I prefer the word tension, because I don't think conflict is all that apt.

I'm so new to all this that I can't say how often it is likely to happen to me, I'd like to think I will learn from this experience and it will never happen again, but from the way I write (a mostly very vague outline), the chances are it will come up again ... and I accept that as part of the process. Curiously enough it was this first half for which I had the most detailed outline, I really don't seem to work well from such details - just hoping I can overcome this handicap for the re-write, yet another learning experience for me (got to be philosophical about it).
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Old 06-23-2012, 11:50 AM   #10
Steven Lake
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Burning down probably happens more with people who write by experimentation of a rough plot (like me) vs those who build theirs off an outline and have the entire story already fleshed out well in advance via their outline. I tried numerous times to write stories using the outline method, and ultimately it never worked for me, so I went back to my original "rough plot -> experiment -> follow the story wherever it leads -> rewrite as needed -> polish, clean, ship" method. So far it's worked well for me, even if I end up having to scrap large sections of story in the process.

Oddly though, in some ways, it's a lot like what Edison did during his experiments. He'd try a thousand different ways and only take the ones that worked. I'm not quite that scattershot in my writing, but I quite often do experimental writing to find exactly what I want to do with a particular scene or character.
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Old 06-25-2012, 01:28 PM   #11
Steven Lyle Jordan
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I've done complete outlines like that before, but as with the old law of writing, "no plot outline ever survives the rough draft." Quite often I find that what sounded good in my outline doesn't quite work once its fleshed out. Hence the need periodically to go back in and completely redo whole sections, or sometimes the whole book. I also sometimes let the story wander on its own and see where it goes, because I've gotten some pretty impressive results doing that as well. ^_^
You could say my outline is my rough draft; and the text I write from that, though I myself call it my draft, is actually my final copy... that is, after I do a proofing and editing pass on the draft, it becomes finalized.

This is one of the reasons I regularly describe my writing work as being similar to a carpenter making a chair: I know from the beginning that I want to make a chair, and what kind of chair I want to make; the steps to making that chair are familiar and rote to me; and at the end, I have the chair I set out to make. I don't set out to make a Chippendale chair and end up with a La-Z-Boy; I make a Chippendale. It's the writing process I was trained in, and it works like clockwork for me.

I emphasize that I was trained to write this way in school; and although it works for me, other writing methods are equally valid if it turns out the product you want. (I just generate less wasted material along the way.)
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Old 06-25-2012, 06:32 PM   #12
Steven Lake
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I'm not one who considers any thrown out material wasted. For one it acts as a teaching tool, showing me what does and does not work, and sometimes discarded ideas become part of another story. Case in point with today's blog post. It tells of a story I wrote years ago that eventually got scrapped because it just plain sucked. However, one of the ships, and a handful of secondary characters from the story found their way in as the main characters in another saga I created. So yes, the original story failed, and was ultimate scrapped because of this, but in the end elements of it survived and became the foundation for another story that not only succeeded, but also spawned a whole series of other books, each of which was progressively more successful.

So in the end, I don't see these as ultimate failures. Merely explorations and learning experiences, some of which get used, and some of which get scrapped. But in the end they all become useful in some way or another.
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Old 06-30-2012, 10:55 PM   #13
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I've got an older novel that I'm planning to take apart and rework. I'm just very lazy

There were some good elements and the basic idea was sound, so I'm keeping that, just changing everything else. Should be a good project once I have the time to get to it--I have a lot on my plate right now. Still, I'm gonna burn that baby up
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Old 07-01-2012, 07:31 AM   #14
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I haven't quite gone that far, but the novels I've written definitely evolved over time. I usually start by working on a barebones structure -- so I know where I'm headed. But there's a lot that can happen between point A and point B. And sometimes I do realize an interesting idea late in the process, or realize that there's a certain scene that needs to be changed or deleted because it slows down the plot.

It does help to really outline you work ahead of time -- you can often figure out where the holes are before you even sit down to write. Then you don't have to go back and delete so much later.
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Old 07-01-2012, 11:08 AM   #15
Steven Lyle Jordan
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It does help to really outline you work ahead of time -- you can often figure out where the holes are before you even sit down to write. Then you don't have to go back and delete so much later.
That.
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