Thursday, September 25, 2008

Turning Back the Clock

For my latest writing project I decided to again revise the first manuscript I ever wrote. It was rejected, rewritten a few years later and rejected again. Does that mean it’s a worthless piece of flotsam? Not on your life--at least not to me. Well, it could possibly be a real loser, but I’m too optimistic (and egotistical) to believe that. What writer doesn’t glare at a rejected story and think it rubbish while simultaneously believing deep down in her writer’s heart it’s actually an unsung masterpiece?

The thing is—I like my story even if one editor didn’t fully appreciate its merits. (I forgive her.) Maybe I can improve it. I’ll deepen my characters and tighten my plot, eliminate ing words, adjectives and adverbs. Then I’ll send it off again and hope and pray for better results this time. I don’t want this manuscript to sit under my bed with all my other junk and collect dust.

The problem is—I really don’t want to rework this one more time. I’ve read the story over so many times I’ve almost memorized it and I can’t find any glaring problems.

Then a brainstorm flashed through my head. I can keep the basic plot and characters, but change the timeframe and setting. That will make it seem almost new—at least not quite so stale. I prefer writing historical romance to contemporary anyway, so why not send the story backwards one hundred years? How hard could it be? I love to write historical romances and this one has potential despite a rejection, so why not.

First I tackled the differences in language between now and 1900, my favorite era. Changing dialogue was easy. The great difference didn’t really come from the words my heroine spoke, but instead came from my heroine herself.

The contemporary girl was outspoken and cocky, stood up for herself and felt confident in her professional abilities. My historical girl felt grateful she had a good job usually reserved for a man and feared if she asserted herself she’d probably get fired. Both young women were products of their times and limited by the norms of their societies. So I needed to send my heroine (and hero, too) to a world in which she’d never lived and see how she’d react to her new surroundings and culture. Lots of fun! I couldn’t have a girl living 108 years ago acting like a liberated 21st century woman.

Research took care of problems with small problems such as transportation. Now that my heroine doesn’t have a car, did she hire a carriage, walk or take the trolley? Since her town actually exists, I needed to find out where the trolley ran in 1900.

This manuscript poses more of a challenge that I expected, but also much more fun. It’s like writing a story from scratch, but with the benefit of having the first draft already completed.

Have any of you changed a story from one time period to another? What difficulties did you encounter and was it worth the effort? I’m very curious.


  1. Cool idea. It seems like some of the historical romances I read today have a "modern" feel to them, so why not take a "modern" novel and send it backwards in time. You've inspired me. I'm going to dig through old manuscripts and see if I can mine gold.

  2. Well, Cara, I certainly don't think you should give up on a manuscript just because it got one or even two rejections! It sounds like a great idea to switch time periods, and sounds like you're doing it the right way!

    If I had any interest in the first book I wrote, I'd do the same thing. I might have a good shot at getting it published. But alas, it just doesn't interest me anymore!

  3. Nope. Never. I wrote a time travel once but not for this market. Sounds very ambitious of you. I think I'd have let it moulder under the bed for a while longer.

  4. Oh, GREAT POST, Cara -- and what a "novel" idea!!! It sounds like a blast to do what you are doing -- and VERY doable, especially for someone of your writing caliber!

    I have never done this, but it sounds like so much fun, that I just might!!


  5. Changing a manuscript from contemporary to historical sure points out the freedom we have now as 21st century women. Think of how our grandmothers and greatgrandmothers struggled without conveniences we take forgranted. We have so many more opportunites now.

    But I like to 'romantasize' the past and write about the fun parts--close families and friends etc. However, a lot of children died young from diseases easily preventable today, so it must have been kind of sad to live through those times.

  6. I've read the first chapter, CAra. I think you're doing a great job with this. You've definitely changed her attitudes and reactions, all while the same story is unfolding around her.

  7. Didn't Janet do this at one point? I'm probably making that up. Old age. You know.

    Cara, I love this idea. Seriously. What a great way to polish a manuscript because it forces you to examine it again, freshen it (without feeling totally redundant) and then recirculate the same story set in a different time frame.

    Love it, love it, love it.

    And I love reading historical novels. Would I write one?

    Not on your life.

    But I love that there are people smarter than me who can take the time to delve into time periods and immerse their story therein.

    Great job, girlfriend. And if Mary offers her seal of approval (sweet, genteel woman that she is), I'm 101% in your corner.


  8. Hey and was anyone else impressed that Kelly dropped 'moulder' into her post without a blink of the eye????

    I bow to the excellence.


  9. Cara, what a great idea to change a contemp to an historical, especially since you love writing historicals best!! But don't be too afraid of letting your heroine buck the times. If she's the strong woman I'm sure she is, she won't take being transported back 100 years lying down. ;-)

    Ruthy, that wasn't me. All my completes are historicals. I do have a couple contemporary starts gathering dust.


  10. I one time wrote about ten thousand words of a book in first person then decided it wasn't working and tried to change it to first person.


    Every verb form was wrong, nearly every sentence had tenses and beings messed up.

    I made me afraid to ever try first person again.

    And, instead of fixing it, I should have left it alone and just started over. Same story starting with a blank page.

  11. So Cool!! What a great idea.
    I've actually heard advice from Amanda Quick before saying that the time isn't important, it's the relationship.
    I've always remembered this because it's true. We want the romance, right?
    It sounds like an interesting story. Good luck with it.
    My first manuscript is sitting on my hard drive and I really don't want to delete it.
    It's so nice to hear that you're reworking yours. I hope you'll let us know how it goes.

  12. Wowser, I hadn't thought about changing the time period for my first manuscript (which I lovingly call my first pancake.) Besides the fact I couldn't write worth a flip when I typed it, I found the historical aspect challenging. The more I wrote, the more I realized I didn't know about the time period despite all my research, so I hid the thing away and counted it as experience.

    After reading your post, my immediate thought was no, I can't convert a story about a young slave girl who chose to trust the Lord over an opportunity to seek revenge to a contemporary setting. Then I thought, why not? Times have changed but the rocks that exist now are the same rocks that existed back in the 19th century, and they cause just as much damage. Hmm, it's a thought. I might even include a romantic interest this time...

    Well, maybe.

    Nice thought. Perhaps that baby has life in it yet. Thanks for the suggestion.