Wednesday, 5 April 2017

11 Things I Learned in Malta about Writing – 5 When it Doesn't Work, Tear it Down, But Then Build it Better

On a 2014 holiday in Malta I saw many things that could help me with my writing. I will be sharing one each week. Here is point 5 I learned:

When it doesn’t work, tear it down, but then build it better

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Everywhere you go on the coast you see buildings derelict, being torn down or rebuilt. We asked a tour guide about it and he told us that city-dwellers have houses on the coast to escape to in the summer. When the children are grown the house is no longer suitable, so they tear it down and rebuild it as apartments so the children can use them for their families. Much as we love our stories, sometimes they just don’t work. Have the courage to tear them apart to make them better.

I worked on my first novel for a long time, and learned my craft as I went on. It’s a science fiction novel called Flight of the Kestrel: Intruders, about a small space ship with a crew of eleven. They are sent on a mission to find a new alien species who are stealing raw materials across the galaxy.

When I first wrote out the story it was only about twenty thousand words – far too short to be a novel. But it was all plot. I learned about building characters, and put that in. I learned about conflict and subplots, and added those. I realised I needed description, and added that. In the process of adding all this, I had to make changes. A change in one place often caused changes in other places. The manuscript grew to over seventy thousand words. I was very pleased with it.

An editor friend in my writers circle offered to read it for me – she had given me valuable feedback before. The result was a shock. Her verdict was, ‘The story is good, the characters are good, but the writing is sh*t!’ She said it had been messed about so much the writing didn’t flow any more. The advice was to take a detailed story outline and write it again.


That was hard to take, but I had to admit she was right. The prospect was daunting though. I had put so much work into it. I was saved by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I wrote 52,000 words in November, kept going, and finished on Christmas Eve at 73,000 words. The chapters I then shared with the writers circle were applauded as miles better than before, so I am confident it was worth it.

If you would like to see how it turned out, you can find it on Amazon UK and US, in ebook and print. You may not need to scrap your whole novel, but don’t cling to passages that need scrapping, when you can build something so much better.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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