Happy book day to Benjanun Sridaungkaew! In this Tell Me, she talks about the agony and ecstasy of the rewrite and how important a lesson it was to her.
Winterglass is my second novella, and prior to it I was mostly a writer of short fiction. I feel I’ve learned a lot more from writing it than my first long-form work: to wit, because Winterglass required a monstrously extensive rewrite.
This sounds more like a horrendous mistake than a learning experience, but with short stories, if I wrong-foot or make false starts (sometimes the entire story being a false start) it’s easy to scrap it all and start over from scratch: there’s a disposability to short story ideas, and you can run away from ones that went sour or fizzled out. While you can still do that with longer works, and sometimes it’s absolutely the right course of action, there’s a good deal more investment, and this novella happens to be the longest work I’ve published so far. It doesn’t help that my false start was so extensive that there was no way to neatly restart from the midpoint, or the two-third, or anything like that. There were entire subplots that have been in the book since the first few chapters. At that point, with my usual mindset with short fiction, it was super tempting to just dump the entire completed manuscript and try again with a completely different idea. This was infuriating, given that I went into writing this expecting it to be simple and essentially write itself.
But I was rather fond of the characters, and felt the core premise had some legs. “The Snow Queen” is a fairytale I don’t see retold much, and not retold the way I had in mind. I decided it was worth the time. First I had to identify what’d gone wrong, and I realized that I had an entire point of view—a blonde foreigner named Idrun struggling against her society’s patriarchal standards—that just didn’t work: she took up close to a third of the book (!) and did... nothing. She interacted with one of the other POVs, but not in any meaningful way. She didn’t affect the other subplots and certainly not the main plot. She was soft and boring and a dead weight. She had to go.
Once I axed her, something magical happened: the revision clicked, the focus on the novella’s two protagonists—the duelist Nuawa and the general Lussadh—was a lot sharper, their relationship more intense. The manuscript grew longer, but it was all meat and muscle. The rewrite took just a couple weeks for a novella that had, prior to that, taken me four agonizing months. I learned to balance confidence in my ideas and my craft, and the awareness to identify my own weaknesses.
Winterglass now more deftly fits its description (a post-colonial, lesbian retelling of “The Snow Queen”), and is far tighter than its first draft ever was. The journey was arduous, but I’m more than pleased with the result.
Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. Her work has appeared on Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, and year’s best collections. She has been shortlisted for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her debut novella Scale-Bright has been nominated for the British SF Association Award.