Finishing old projects

A few years ago, I started writing my own Choicescript game (Mordred: Blood Cries Afar - you can read it here Mordred: Blood Cries Afar (WIP)).

I’m a long-term RPG player and GM, but this was my first attempt at creative writing - and like a lot of new writers I was overambitious, just started writing without much of a plan and eventually burnt out. From memory, I managed somewhere in the region of 15,000 words, and had more or less finished the first of five planned chapters.

It’s a project that’s often returned to my imagination over the years, and I’d like to come back to it. At the same time, there are flaws in the text I’ve got so far which will be hard to fix (including in terms of the structure of the chapter I’ve got so far, where some paths are considerably better developed than others, and in relation to the implementation of stats). And I’m aware of the massive time commitment that will be needed to churn out the remaining chapters. More broadly, my vision of Arthurian Britain’s a bit of a mishmash of different influences, and I’m not altogether convinced by how well they fit together.

I’m interested in hearing how others have approached revisiting old projects? I’ve seen attempts to revive a few unfinished games here over the years, but from what I’ve seen writers often find it tricky to overcome the challenges they ran into the first time round. Is it easier to just start over with something new, or do you find yourself running into much the same hurdles again a second time round?

As an aside, a friend of mine took a year’s career break pre-lockdown to finish a novel he’d been working on - but ultimately ended up deciding it was unsalvageable and binning it instead. The struggle is real!

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I relate to this a lot! Over the years I gathered a lot of unfinished novels and a handful of IF projects, and what I found when returning to them was that in general there was a reason why I abandoned them. The reason could range between structural problems, overambition, poorly defined design pillars or player goals… or a project could just run out of steam (in my case this was usually because of not planning a solid enough plot or life getting in the way).

When I’ve returned to old projects after a long absence I’ve looked at what was there as clearly and rigorously as I could, and thought a lot about what would be needed to salvage it in its current form, and whether it would be satisfying to do so rather than make something new. In my case whenever I’ve done that, I’ve realised that if I returned to the project it would be a sunk cost fallacy. Sometimes it’s been a relief, sometimes bittersweet and difficult to move on, but I always keep in mind that I’ve learned from every project and I can scavenge elements of a story or game whether that’s a character idea, mechanic, setting detail etc, for use in a future project where it works more effectively.

My advice would be to really think about what you love about your unfinished project, what elements you feel are the strongest, and what you’d want to keep if you reworked it. That may give you information about whether you want to continue on this project or whether you could use your favourite aspects of it in something new.

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Fallen Hero was based on an unfinished book I wrote 15 years earlier. At the start, I tried to reuse a lot of the text, but eventually, I realized that actually took longer since my writing had matured so much.

I have earlier tried to salvage three other, older books into new and better ones, but failed. One of them ended up being incorporated into FH (bringing some good characters with it), one is permanently binned, and one will one day form the basis of a new book but not bring any of the text or structure with it.

In short, it depends. My advice would be to start over from the beginning, BUT go through your old document and cut out any segments, scenes, or pieces you really like so you can add them when you write the new draft.

Trust me, use what you have as learning materials, it takes a lot less time to just rewrite from scratch knowing what you know now.

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It happened to me too, I had to drop my project many times because of life, and every time I returned to it i found more and more things to improve. I think I rewrote the first part like 4 o 5 times already (in a broad way, not counting all the tweaks), but I made it work i think.
With all the things I’ve learned on the way I would say that if you are kind of in the same page than I was, start again, but with all the things you know now. Use what you wrote as a base or take ideas from it, and plan ahead so you don’t have the issue of reworking things that wouldn’t have worked. Words start to pile up once you get into it, so 15k won’t probably be much at the end. 5k worth more if it’s better written and it doesn’t cause you problems afterwards.

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Bear in mind too that massive re-writes are part of the process. Your traditional novel will typically have five or six major re-writes before it hits the shelves, and this holds even for experienced writers. Sometimes you need a long break between re-writes to get some distance from it.
Also, some writers plot everything out but some of us just throw stuff at the wall and keep the bits that stick. Don’t be shy of just throwing stuff away - I once had to dump 25,000 words from a novel after it was pointed out to me that they just didn’t belong.
I discovered ChoiceScript fairly recently and I’m having fun trying to write using it. I have a WIP but I’ll be surprised if it is in any way presentable a year from now.

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I agree with this, but I will add one caveat: never completely delete what you write. Make a folder for trashed scenes, name them accordingly (and separate by scene), and keep them as an archive. That way, if you suddenly think of a scene you wrote before that you’d like to use in some way (even if it’s only the backbone of the scene), you have it there to refer to.

I’ve deleted stuff I later regretted and couldn’t quite remember how I wrote it, and been pissed off for days because I never could quite capture what I was going for in the original scene, so I started doing this–and have used it more than once.

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Especially for IF. Odds are that you’ll be able to work some of it into a side pathway of some kind. There’s a lot less lost in IF writing than in traditional novels, I find.

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Then go for it. What have you got to lose? I’m currently working through my WIPs to get them finished up. Most are in the category or just needing finishing and/extending (rather than having major issues) which sounds like the case of yours. (I have one which is my oldest which needs a major rewrite due to improvements in my coding and changes in the styles I tend to use now but that’s another story.) One of mine (almost done! Wish real life would cut me a bit of a break so I can get that last chapter in.) Was from 2 years back. It’s something I always did want to come back to and similar to yours only had a short starting point down which actually makes it easier to recover into a longer game imo.

15k isn’t that much. I’d go through it with a critical eye and decide if you want to edit or rewrite then go from there. You can definitely keep, discard and rewrite different sections depending on how you feel, but I wouldn’t be afraid to do a big edit considering you’ve only got the first chapter down if you feel it’s necessary.

I guess the last thing is to ask yourself why you abandoned it. Was it just AFK life getting in the way, or a new shiny idea came along and you got distracted? If that’s the case, pick it back up and run with it. Lack of ideas or slowing motivation are often also solved by a break to look at it again fresh.

If there was something in particular to do with the story that was bothering you before, then take a look at that first and see if it’s viable to fix before throwing a lot of time and effort into something where you may hit the same wall again. (Example with over of mine I need to decide how to reconcile adding unplanned ROs that may need a later story point to be altered I think. It can get easy to write yourself into a corner, but unless it’s a really messy situation, it generally just needs some time, brainstorming (or worst case focal rewrites) to solve.

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