Tale of Quasi-Woe

Hey, sorry I’ve been so lame posting this summer.* But I haven’t been totally lazy. I’ve been writing!

What, you may ask? Well, it’s a secret, and I can’t tell you any details about it yet.**

But here’s a funny thing that happened . . .

Quick note: This would be a good time for anyone who works for my publishers to stop reading. No really. Nothing to see, move it a long, because this is SO unrelated to delivery dates or professional issues of any kind. Okay?


So, all you non-publishing types, there I was, 16,000 words (65 pages) into my shiny wonderful new book. Except it wasn’t wonderful; something was deeply, deeply wrong. The voice, the plot, the structure all seemed to be sucking! No matter how much I edited the writing, smoothed the transitions, caffeinated the plot, or voicified the characters, it all just came out flat.

The whole book gave me that icky feeling of inexcusable lameness, like when they rap on Sesame Street, or when my parents would say “The Led Zeppelin” and “Clash,” instead of the other way around. Or when politicians clap along with the musical act before their speeches. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

My novel was to a good book what this object is to a florescent light:

This was taken by me on a NYC street. Is not that the awesomest? What the heck stepped on that light bulb? Godzilla? Truckzilla?

Anyway, back to my tale of quasi-woe. The weird thing was, I was pretty sure that somewhere, maybe just next door to what I was writing about, something pretty cool was happening. The world of the novel was fascinating, but the novel wasn’t.

So let’s skip past many sleepless nights and screaming writing sessions to a day shortly before Christmas. Justine and I were walking to breakfast, and I finally realized the problem . . . I had the wrong point of view.

The main character, the one whose POV I was writing from, was too smug, too knowing, and generally non-likeable. A certain other person in the story was saying and doing much more interesting things. And worse, most of those cool things were being said and done when my POV person wasn’t around, which meant that the reader was only getting told about them.

Which sucked.

So I tossed those 16,000 words, and started over.

Now, I’d like to say this was easy. Like I’m a fearless and industrious perfectionist, who cares only about the final product. But no . . . it came in slow, reluctant stages.

First I said, “Well, we can keep most of this stuff, just change some pronouns and whatnot, and it’ll all seemlessly become Character B’s POV. Just start the story earlier!”

That, of course, failed to work. After all that smoothing and editing, lame Character A had saturated the prose. So I told myself, “Well, maybe we can have two points of view, and I can keep maybe four or five thousand words.”

And that worked even less. Character A dropped back into the story like a led zeppelin, possibly even the led zeppelin.

So after much toing and froing (mostly froing), only a tiny fraction of those lost 16,000 words have been rescued. And all have come at an editing cost roughly equal to writing them from scratch in the first place. Possibly more.

But I promise, the novel is much, much better, and I am a happier writer-person. More importantly, these next months of effort will be far more enjoyable, and the next forty years of having this book on my shelf much less embarrassing. Also, I got to keep 100% of the thinking I’ve already done, free of charge!

And all at the small cost of one month’s work.***

So my words of wisdom for today are:

“Sometimes tossing out vast quantities of words is better than letting a whole book bleed slowly to death. Don’t give up, just start over.”

Okay, maybe that’s not the feel-good story of the year. But these are:

1. The Last Days and Justine’s Magic Lessons have both been nominated for the Aurealis Awards! Yay to us and the other nominees:

Monster Blood Tattoo: Book One. Foundling by D.M. Cornish
The King’s Fool by Amanda Holohan
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillie

2. After twenty-two months in print, Uglies has joined Pretties and Specials on the NY Times bestseller list. It’s wild for such an old book to appear for the first time on a bestseller list, and it can only mean that you guys are still talking it up to your friends. Yay to you.

3. Last July I blogged about some haiku I wrote for an issue of Subterranean Magazine. This issue can now be downloaded for free. Big yay to those publishers who realize that freely downloadable materials lead to more sales, not fewer.

*Southern hemisphere summer = December to February.
**Don’t even bother asking.
***Okay, maybe two months, if you include Thailand. But seriously, non-publishing dudes, I was chilling in Thailand.

63 thoughts on “Tale of Quasi-Woe

  1. What a great story about the occasional necessity of rewriting. I remember reading once that Robert Heinlein didn’t edit his books. He started writing and let them go wherever they wanted to without bothering to tighten them up in the end or rewrite inconsistencies. I figure that’s why many of his books, such as *Stranger in a Strange Land* start out as one book and become something completely different. Glad to hear there’s a new book coming out.

  2. I’m so glad you posted again!! That completely sucks that you had to do that much work to change up the story, but I’m glad you worked it out and like it that much better. I a large amount of faith in you, mainly because of the seven books of yours that I’ve read, I didn’t come across one that I didn’t like, and that I haven’t recommended to other people to read. You rock. 🙂

  3. never having written something as ambitious as a novel, i still must say that it also hurts to throw out a poem or short story and start over. voice, point of view, tone, cadence…when your poem is only 30 words long just one of those being off makes the whole thing icky!! anyway, i admire you for making the right choice. i think i speak for more than just myself when i say we trust you to make the right choices…you haven’t let us down yet!! 😛

    also, awesome about uglies joining the other two on the nyt bestseller list. i recommend your books to my friends all the time, and i’ve only ever heard wonderful responses from said friends!

  4. Hi, Scott,
    This is totally off topic but did you see the article in the NY Times yesterday about street-level fashion and early adopters? It was “So Yesterday”! Of course they didn’t write about it as well as you did but take a look.
    One of your grown-up fans,
    Ariel (who is studying library science at Rutgers)

  5. I’m excited to hear you’re working on a new book! I bet it’s pretty stressful though, haha. So i was just thinking, in your Uglies Trilogy, why was everyone so grossed out by red meat? Did the whole planet suddenly turn to vegetarianism? Okay, But why? Anyway, thats just a random thought that crossed my mind while i was reading your previous blog. Hope you’re doing well.

  6. congrats about Uglies and The Last Days (which I finished reading a couple days ago). I’m sorry about your writing blight, but hey- a better book that takes longer is way better than a cruddy book. I can’t wait to read it!

  7. now i really wan to kno what the book is about and the title. man this is going to bug me untill i find out. but i would never have enough patience to write a whole novel over again. i give you many props and lots of sympathy for having to do it!

  8. Hmmm… reminds me of the fact that I still have to rewrite a few chapters of the novel I’m working on. Scary thought, but I changed some of the key details for the whole book, (details said chapters hinge directly on) so it’s sort of necessary. Anyway, can’t wait to read the book you’re working on. Even from your vague references the characters sound interesting. And I love the smashed lightbulb lol.

  9. LOVE YOUR STORIES! Hey I made a storie of david and tally after speaciels. It isn’t that good (unless you want to read it! *gets hyped up) but ya. I hope you make more books. I absolutly love them. I sometimes slip in what I now call tally mode and imagen me in her place. Its fun. Well gtg bye!

  10. darn b&n scott westerfeld hatters. i was off at my local b&n and found out they dont have prieties but they do have uglies and specials strange humm… they dont have any of the books i want . but i did buy the peepsness my brother laughed at me errrg so you get like 27.50 of my gift cards yippie for scott

  11. Last summer*, I tossed out 25,000 words of a novel that I had already written completely from scratch twice before. If that makes you feel any better. 😛 I then proceeded to write 60,000 words of a quasi-fourth draft last November, and out of that, I think maybe 10,000 words are salvagable. I wouldn’t know, b/c I promptly stuck that story deep into the recesses of my hard drive, possibly never to return. 😛

    HURRAY for Uglies!! That’s fantastic news. 😀 😀

    *Of the northern hemisphere variety

  12. it hard for me to wright a half page story let alone 60000 word (“and here is my simaly for the day”)scotts wrighting is like an italian sports car and my wrighting is like where your cat barfed in the “little gehto car”

  13. Hey Scott.

    Love the quote and the footnotes. 🙂

    Sucks that you have to start over… kinda. I get the jist of what it’s like to have to re-write a (sorta) long piece of work. It’s as you say- it sucks, but doesn’t, because you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re writing the way that feels the way it should (if that makes any sense).

    Congrats on Uglies.

    Be well.

  14. I “heard” about your book from amazon after reading Twilight, another YA book my younger sisters got me into, and I loved Uglies. Now they want to read it too. The only thing that did bother me was the paperback. I prefer the more sturdy hardback versions. But I did see that the Specials is in hardback so that’s cool. Now we’re all interested in all your other books. Sometimes it’s hard finding books that keep your interest and yours certainly kept my interest piqued. Thanks! PS. It’s also pretty cool that you actually keep up with your fans. There are some authors who write great books but they hardly ever update their websites or at least try to interact with their fans.

  15. Re-writing things is always hard, but very fun. I’m working on my novel’s re-writes now, and the story is getting better and better! It’s also upping the word count! The longer the better is what I say!

  16. ha, you spelt writing like you spell ‘playwright’ that makes me laugh. but im not writing a book, im too impatient and unimaginitive.

  17. I wrote a story one time and it had to be at least 500 words and I wrote 506 words…I don’t think I’d be that good of a novel writer.

  18. Quasi-woe — is that kind of like Tally-wa?

    I guess starting over is better than turning out sucky prose. I do that when I’m composing email or making blog comments – I imagine if I were writing a novel I’d be starting over all the time, so it’s a good thing I’m not a writer…

    Good luck with the rewrite!

  19. You are an amazing author, and as I sit in the writing center during my study period in school and read your blog, I think how much like each of your characters you are. Like everytime you write a new series you give them a piece of your mind (literally!). Keep up the good work, and PLEASE e-mail me sometime, I’m sure to get back to get back to you =)

  20. Okay, I just sat down with a calculator and worked out how many words I have so far written of my book, and it doesn’t even add up to 16,000 yet! Talk about depressing. Proof that I have to stop working on the plots for the next two books in the trilogy and finish the first one, I guess. Lol.

  21. Just finished reading Uglies, Pretties, and Specials over the holidays which my great friend Mei Chin recommended to me and LOVED it.

    Quick question, I’m a filmmaker and was excited with the idea of turning the trilogy into films. Would you be open to considering it?

    My friend Mei, who is a writer, and I would love the opportunity to meet up with you to discuss. We both felt your writing is so incredibly cinematic. I believe you are based part time in NY, and we would love to take you to dinner sometime this week if you are available.

    FYI, website for my first feature film:

  22. Heh, I heart that photo you took. It’s gorgeous, except at first I thought you died or something and that was the light at the end of the tunnel. So I screech, “OMG SCOTT WESTERFELD DIED!!!!!!”

    But then I read the post. Phooie. You dying is more dramatic, even though the POV thing was intruiging.

    Oh! Did ya’ll know that “Scott” is the 235th most popular baby name, and “Zane” is the 237th?

    I thought that was strange. Cool, but strange.

  23. Amy you see my point. i dont know if i like the idea of one of scotts books becomeing a movie the books are so good for thinking of of an image rather than someone problebly ruining it by trying to. like who could be zane or dess or jen

  24. i know! im sure that if one of his books was made into a movie then alot more people would read it, but the movie would ruin the picture in my head. And even if the movie was EXACTALLY what i pictured, it wouldnt be as good. thats why i was sad when they made ‘the lion the witch abd the awrdrobe’ into a movie. they kind of made the characters…less than they were before, ya know?

  25. Most books aren’t made into very good movies. “Hoot” was alright as a movie, as was “Millions”, but according to my friends “Eragon” is nothing like the book. This is what we get for reading, eh?

  26. Well, if the Eragon movie was just like the book, people might all start noticing the distinct plot similarities to Star Wars…

  27. Hey, Scott, question: Did you coin the term “fawesome”? A friend of mine says that he’s heard it somewhere else…

  28. i thought eragon the book wasnt very good. i havnt seen the movie yet though. and ergon is like everything. 15 year olds dont have very much imagination, they steal from other books. for-shame!

  29. Wow, Scott. That’s totally amazing – that you’re willing to throw out those 16,000 words of hard work to make the book as good as it can be!
    Haha. But seriously, that’s awesome. Good luck to you, hope it just ~flows~ onto that computer. ^^

  30. Eragon = star wars? For real? Huh. Well I haven’t read the second one yet… but I thought the book was really good!!
    movie sucked.

    Ok, no more on other books!

  31. In the second Eragon book he gets sent off to the last surviving dragon-rider (Yoda) to be trained as a true dragon-rider, and then finds out that Darth Vader is his father.

  32. I have vowed not to read the second Eragon book (aka Eldest) because I’ve already figured out all the secrets by just reading the 1st one. That shows how hard it is to figure out, huh? I figured out that “Darth Vader” was his father WAY before the ending of book one.

  33. every one sees my point movies made from books suck exept harry poter there good it almost seems like wrighters are the brains of entertainment people have no NEW ideas for shows and movies except wrighters it bugs me so mutch. when you read a book your supposed to see it indivisualy in your head.

  34. The world is against us.
    And I’d like to say that MY novel has stolen no ideas from anyone, and I not fifteen yet. So there. Maybe that’s when it kicks in? And you’re stuck rewriting everyone else’s work for one whole year and then you escape?

  35. Everyone bases their stories on something else just a little bit. You can write without taking all the plot details, but I don’t think anyone can write without any inspiration.

  36. The Harry Potter movies suck if you’ve read the books, especially 3 & 4 with the new director and all… I hate when books are made into movies because then it’s just not special anymore. All these people all of a sudden fall in love with it even though they didn’t read the books and only read them after, it’s no longer sacred. I’m probably sounding like a real freak/pshyco combinatin right now, but I just wanted to make that clear, movie are movies and books are books, watching and reading are two different learning systems, and the latter uses more brains than the former- which is sort of like reading for lazy people =) sorry if I offend anyone.

  37. Alissa, yes everyone needs inspiration, but not always from someone else’s idea. I mean, my novel was not based off anyone else’s book/ideas. It was based off my own. Off of me just a bit. I didn’t use anything else. Except one of my friend’s jokes, but that doesn’t really matter.


    Sorry, Eragon is one of my favorite

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