Monday, 8 June 2009

Rewriting on Request

So you’ve been asked to rewrite a story.

Do you:

a) Throw a strop because no one, absolutely no one has any right to tell you how your story should begin, end, whatever.

b) Panic. You don’t understand what they want you to do. Panic some more.

c) Get on with it, do the best job you can and resubmit.

d) Put it to one side and worry about it later, like next year sometime or maybe when you’ve got a bit more experience or more ink in your printer or when you’ve got more time.

First of all if you are asked to rewrite a story or just give it a little tweak it is not a guarantee of publication, but the fact that you have been asked at all means that the editor likes your work and thinks it could be publishable so you are In With A Chance! Being asked to rewrite something by an editor is a Big Thing! A very Big Thing!

I’m trying to think of cases when I’ve been asked to rewrite something and why. One that springs to mind – and it is probably one of the most common reasons for me over the years – is when the editor likes the story, but one of the main characters is too unsympathetic. If you’re going to make someone bad, then give them a reason for being bad. This all depends on the publication of course; some are more willing to take out-and-out baddies than others!

We all know people in Real Life who are thoroughly despicable for no other reason than – well they are just thoroughly despicable. But we’re not always writing about Real Life are we?

I have had endings that are too abrupt and I am probably guilty here of checking my word count and thinking Oh Hell, 250 words left to wind up the story! In this case, I’d sort out the ending then go back through the story and cut elsewhere to get the length right. You can always find surplus to cut if you have to.

I had to tweak part of a story once where I had a woman moving the dead body of the man who had been abusing her until she retaliated and killed him. It was pointed out to me that she wouldn’t be able to shift a heavy body all on her own, so I found a handy trolley or some other thing with wheels – I don’t rightly remember now, but it helped shift the body and sold the story.

Recently I rewrote a story because I’d simply carried it on too long. It should have ended two thirds of the way through, so I chopped off the surplus scenes and wrote a few sentences to wind it up. Sounds so easy doesn’t it? Well no one ever said it was easy, but it’s a lot easier than writing a whole new story from scratch.

Maybe you have to make it a bit longer. Remember it’s always easier to put on weight than take it off. I had to find 500 words recently to fatten a story up.

There are times when I do b). I don’t really understand what they want me to do. Usually if you read through the story and get to know it again, it will become obvious. But what if it doesn’t? In this case I’d rewrite (always keeping the original) and ask my husband (bless him) to read through both and give an opinion. Sometimes you really do just need someone else’s input or maybe it’s just confirmation that you’re not as daft as you think you are.

If you’re tempted to do d) don’t. Don’t rush your rewrite, but do make it a priority. The door is open and if you don’t go in or at least poke your nose round, it may well slam in your face. While you’re prevaricating Someone Else might write the same story but better and by the time you get your rewrite in, Someone Else has beaten you to it. Either that or the magazine decides not to run fiction any more.

What if you rewrite and it comes back, still not right? Try again! And the third time? Keep going. What if it comes back again with a Thanks but No Thanks? Put it down to experience and try not to hurt yourself too much as you gnash your teeth.

And for anyone considering option a) - I'd just like to say that when I've been asked to do a rewrite it has always improved the story.

And right now I have gone into a cold sweat because I have a feeling that I was asked to rewrite something and I made a note in my notebook. You should see the current page, it’s covered in things crossed out, three brief ideas for stories, four rejections to be sorted out and a shopping list for next time I go internet shopping. There are several pages of pencilled scribbles courtesy of my granddaughters. What if somewhere in that mess of a notebook there is an Important Note that I have somehow overlooked?

But that’s a subject for another post one day perhaps. Paranoia!!


  1. Glynis Scrivens9 June 2009 at 08:04

    When I've been asked to rewrite a story - and then to rewrite it again, it really bugs me when that editor then shows the story to someone else who doesn't like the basic premise. However, the best thing to do is simply sell it elsewhere - and hope they see it. Because as you say, these rewritten stories are better than the originals so they have a better chance elsewhere too. I've sold a couple of rewrites this year, and it's always extra satisfying

  2. Oh, if only I'd be asked to rewrite a short story by an editor - I would relish the challenge! And, as you say, Teresa, it's a foot in the door, a way in, and you're definately in with a chance.

    Julie xx

  3. I'm always happy to do rewrites, especialy as the editors seem usually to be quite specific about what they want to be changed, so that makes it easier.

    I'm afraid that I don't agree that the stories are always improved though. I ended up changing one of mine quite a lot and, although I accept that it was then a better fit for that particular magazine, I thought it had lost a lot of it's original feel. My fault for sending it to the wrong place I suppose and it was still a nice story when it was published.

  4. Oh no! An 'its' typo in my last post! I do know the difference - honest!

  5. I agree - I'm always happy to do a re-write on request, in fact I consider it flattering that an editor has bothered to suggest changes, rather than just turning a story down flat. I can't understand writers who won't agree to change a story, to give it a good chance of publication. Why offer it for publication in the first place!

    The same applies to books - I had to do a considerable amount of re-writing on one of my novels and although it was very daunting at first, I made myself look on it as a challenge, and ended up enjoying the job. That's what it is, after all - a job of work - and if we want to be paid for it, we need to listen to what 'the boss' is saying!

  6. I've only been asked to make changes on a few occasions. Fortunately in each case the editor was quite clear about what they wanted and bought the amended story.

    I'd much rather be asked to do a rewrite than get a rejection!

  7. I haven't been asked to do a re-write that many times, but I remember once when I was asked, I went into complete panic mode and honestly couldn't see how the story would work out if it was changed as suggested.

    It meant huge changes - and basically, I said I couldn't do it. I felt awful afterwards and imagined that I'd never sell a story to that editor again, but thankfully I did and I also managed to sell the story in question to somebody else, so it all turned out OK in the end, but I'd definitely try my hardest to do a re-write now if I was asked.

  8. Has bugged me too, Glynis. I once rewrote a story three or four times before it was finally rejected!

    It will happen for you, Julie!

    Ah, Bernadette, I can’t think of any of my own stories that suffered as a result of a rewrite. I agree though that you can lose that original feel! I know what you mean. And I would never have noticed the typo!!

    That’s right, Olivia – they are the boss! But rewriting a whole book – now that really is hard work!

    Definitely Patsy, rewrite over rejection any day!

    I haven’t done it lately, Susan, but I can remember not rewriting something when asked and then selling it in its original form elsewhere and feeling guilty about it! You’ve jogged my memory about that – I had completely forgotten.

  9. I jumped for joy when I recieved my first rewrite request in December last year. It was a lovely, encouraging letter and explained in detail how I could improve the story for that market. I did my best and sent it back for consideration and (in the words of the great Diana Ross) I'm still waiting...

    (Have probably tempted fate by telling you that. Will be scared of the postman until I hear one way or the other now.)

  10. I'm with you: rewrite over rejection anyday, even if I don't agree with what the editor wants. They're the boss and it's my job to deliver. However, today I have been told by a commissioning editor that she loves the character and writing of my novel, but hates the plot! Aagh! Not sure I can face a rewrite of that - Olivia you deserve a medal!

  11. I was asked to do a rewrite recently, and I agree that it's a really positive thing. It's good that an editor likes it enough to ask for specific changes. I have my fingers crossed for a positive response now!

  12. I think after so long, Suzanne, you would be entitled to chase that one up, particularly as you'd been asked to rewrite.

    Give yourself a few days, Lydia and I bet you'll want to get back in there and start rewriting!

    Hope you hear with that positive response soon, Helen.

  13. I've only once been asked for a rewrite - to change the ending of a story I'd sent to TAB. They didn't like the dying child in the final scene. Yes, I suppose that was a bit strong - so I had to revive him before they bought the story!

  14. I'm so glad you revived him, Womag! The power! If only we could do that in real life.