Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Why Don't Authors Re-Write Their Novels?

In virtually all media art forms there is a tradition of reworking and updating material, giving it a fresh coat of paint, so to speak.

Take movies, for example.  We all know that popular films get updated and recycled every so many years - everything from Bond movies to dance classics such as Footloose get this revision process.  Then there are the homages, hats tipped to the original story but filmed as a different piece of art - new title, different character names but essentially the original plot updated.

In music its a little different - it's considered bad form (for that read illegal) to 'update' music tracks without the original owners' consent.  But making an original interpretation of a song is fine as long as the owner gets credited and compensated - take 'Yesterday' by Lennon and McCartney for example; think of a number to guess how many versions have been recorded, any number you like, and its probably short of the current total.

But does anyone revisit their books?  Do authors think 'hey, it's about time I reworked such and such a book?'  Probably not, and for some justifiably good reasons, I guess.  If a book is still selling well, that implies it ain't broke.  If it's not selling well, but once did - well a rework might kick-start it, but if the author is still writing and has the creative juices flowing he or she probably wants to get the new ideas down on paper (or e-ink).  Reworking an old novel probably feels too much like self editing a book, a process all authors have to do as they near publication day and it can be a bit of a drudge reading and re-reading prose for the eleventeenth time.  And judging from some of the typos I've stumbled across in the last twelve months, including books from best selling mainstream authors and their publishing houses, it's a step that isn't being carried out assiduously enough.

I moot these thoughts as I consider my first novel, Parallel Lives, could benefit from a facelift.  When I wrote the main draft nearly ten years ago I reflected issues and technologies that were bubbling under the surface back then.  For example there's a plotline about Avian Flu that was probably more worrying in 2002 - don't get me wrong, I still think that a mutated Avian Flu strain may yet cause a pandemic situation but since I wrote the plot the risk has got close to being real.  Now from a writing perspective that's great in one way - predict something, even something that potentially could cause a lot of heartache and devastation - and you could be recognised as prophetic, not a bad reputation for a sci fi writer.  But in 2012, plotlines about Avian Flu probably look a little dated.  Another plot element, number plate recognition, wasn't well known about when I used it as part of the plot back then - I was in the defence procurement world and had some inside information which I sneaked in.  Today it's a mainstream piece of technology, used to identify car tax dodgers and to punish shoppers who linger too long in supermarket car parks.  There's no issue with its use in Parallel Lives, but writing it today I would just refer to it as an established technology, not a 'wow, look at this' plotline.

Because I like to swim against the tide, I may well re-write Parallel Lives and it may even be rewritten in this blog, chapter by chapter (they almost certainly need breaking down a bit anyway).  If I do, it may be after Project: Evil has been serialised, or I may interleave the two books on different days.

But most Authors wouldn't do that, I readily accept.  But here's an idea that might work, one stolen from the world of film.  What about updating another author's work - not stealing the idea but rewriting the book, updating it in the way that films are rewritten and updated.  Obviously give the original author full credit but write the book in an updated style.  Perhaps rework a piece of Charles Dickens as a SciFi novel?  Great Expectations could work, A Tale of Two Cities could be set on another planet, although there's enough revolution going on in the world today to not need to fabricate an alien location. 

But lets not kid ourselves.  Apart from the fact that all writing draws on what we have read and seen previoulsy, there is belief that there are only a handful of original storylines anyway.  So technically, with every book we write we're almost certainly stealing something from somebody on practically every line.  Maybe an upfront re-write is a more honest form of intellectual theft?


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