On Lily’s story

Yesterday morning I woke up with a cold, which left my body demanding sleep and my mind groping through a fog as dense as any that ever came out of Solbane. Today my head’s better, and it’s snowing.

For some reason, though barely any of it takes place during winter, Lily’s story is one of my most wintery ones. It’s a coming-of age story, and the first half focuses on her discovering that she’s a writer, and learning her craft, mainly on her own, because in the 1860’s you couldn’t very well major in Creative Writing. In the second half, among other things to do with growing up, she gets married. I wrote it over the course of about three and a half years, and the writing style changed drastically, which means that if ever I wanted to publish my sprawling narrative of 100,000 words, I’d need to do some serious rewriting.

I tried, actually, beginning with the beginning. The trouble wasn’t so much in the opening scenes, though they are full of flaws, but in the cliches the story was built on. First, Lily was sent to a boarding school where she was unhappy. Second, she was orphaned shortly thereafter. Third, her new guardians were far from understanding and she was still unhappy. At the time I didn’t know they were cliches.

It ought to have been easy enough to change things, only it wasn’t. Lily and I are old friends who’ve kind of grown up together and we know each other pretty well. I started writing her story and she pointed out the time period she was at home in, which made it different from the other stories she’d been in as a minor or supporting character. I knew next to nothing about the American Civil War era and had to do quite a bit of research; it was also my first foray into historical fiction. Another difference was that this one grew long. It finished, I thought, at 25k, my longest piece to that point, and then I got an idea for a second part, which brought it past 50k, and then a third part, which was more than 30k on its own, and then an ending, which I wrote a little less than a year ago, which is nearly 8k. After having spent three years and a hundred thousand words on her life, it became the way it happened to her and not something I made up and have the power to change. Perhaps its being historical fiction helped that, as we know we can’t change the past. Changing the story enough to get rid of the cliches would mess with the plot too much: cliche or not, that’s how it happened, and as we don’t appreciate people rewriting our history to make it more thrilling, I decided not to, but left things as they were, content for it not to be published (or even very readable).

Then recently I got an idea, not to rewrite it, but to re-tell it, the way people do retellings of fairy tales: keeping important elements so you can still recognize the original in it, but changing and tweaking other things to serve a different purpose. This time, also, because some of the changes demand modern conveniences, it takes place in the modern day. I’ve been putting things together for it, though I haven’t started the writing, and it looks like it will be fun. Lily’s is one of my cosiest stories. I learned while planning for this why Lily, though a writer, isn’t writing her own story: she has a marked aversion to first-person point of view, and finds writing about herself in third person quite uncomfortable. The title will also change — it no longer even fits the original very well, and it’s too long and hard to say. I’m not sure what it will become, though.

I was going to add some snippets, but anything that isn’t spoilers is very poor writing, and anything that’s good comes late enough to ruin things if you don’t already know the plot.

Have any of you readers ever rewritten your own work like this? Does it work better the second time around?


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
This entry was posted in Historical fiction, Lily's stories, work in progress and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Lily’s story

  1. Christine says:

    I DO know what you’re saying about how events in books just ARE, they can’t be changed, however cliche or what-have-you they may be. I’ve experienced this before! I love how you worded it.

    “… the way it happened to her and not something I made up and have the power to change.”

    YES. You put into words something I’ve felt but never been able to tangibly express. That’s exactly it! Some stories are how they are, there is no changing them. But I LOVE your solution to treating it like a retelling, keeping the same themes but allowed changes as well. That is brilliant!

    It’s sweet how you and Lily have grown up together. That is the best. ^_^


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