Several months ago, I completed the Mad Science Institute sequel. Then I decided to scrap it and start over. The bottom line is that I’ve now completed a superior version, with the big change being that it features only Soap’s side of the story instead of alternating with other points of view (POVs) as I had done in Mad Science Institute. It’s got 95% of the awesome stuff that my first version had, but delivers it in 65% of the pages (which works out to almost 1.5 times as much awesomeness per page!).
I’ve found that a story can potentially go in any number of directions as it’s being developed. I usually start with a roadmap for the plot, but my characters invariably grab the wheel and we end up exploring new territory together. I say that like the characters have minds of their own because sometimes it feels like they do. That’s fine with me: my characters are encouraged to guide my stories because the process reveals who they are.
Will Soap stick around on campus for her date with Brett, or will she fly to Arizona to investigate the cyborg lab? Will Dean rush in to fight the bikers working for his nemesis, or will he hang back and call his buddies at the FBI? Those are questions for the characters to answer, and it feels like only they can decide those things. I, as the writer, get to decide which questions to ask by putting the characters into situations where they have to make those decisions. I can ask a hundred different questions to tell a hundred different stories, but it’s probably best not to ask a hundred different questions in the same story. It comes down to deciding which ones need to be asked in this particular book.
In the case of the Mad Science sequel, I decided that the questions I wanted to ask about Soap and Dean didn’t mesh as well as they had in the first book. In Mad Science Institute, it’s about misfits finding a home, and they both have that in common even though they come at it from completely different directions. In the sequel, it’s about Soap venturing out into the bigger world and discovering who she is, while Dean’s portion of the story was about grappling with grief and depression. It just didn’t match up. I want to explore both those situations, but I eventually realized that they needed to be explored separately.
What will happen to the Dean portions I removed? Well, he’s still in the book and throwin’ punches at bad guys. A few of his chapters I gave to Soap, and it was amusing to see how she overcame the same obstacles in different ways. Mostly, I think I want to save Dean’s portion of the adventure—or, at least, his character arc if not the actual plot details—for a future sequel. I’m even thinking I might do other novels with different POV characters—maybe Victor, Angela, Choop, and more. But first, at least during her freshman year, the series is going to stay with Soap because she’s got the most growing up (and blowing up) to do.
So, that’s the status of the new manuscript. Unfortunately, it will be a long while yet before this book finds its way to print, because publishing makes glaciers look like cheetahs. Finishing this manuscript has also coincided with my needing to find an agent, so that introduces a few more variables. I feel like a total rookie for not having recognized the needs of the story earlier on, but at least I can honestly say I’m pleased with the final result because it’s better, faster, and deeper than the first one.
For all you writers out there: am I the only one who’s ever gotten deep into a project only to want to start over? How do you avoid or cope with that? For you readers: would you prefer lots of cool details in a novel even if they’re a bit random, or would you prefer a more focused story? I’d be interested in your opinions.