Being a necromancer is tough. Or a mad scientist. Or an author. Pretty much any profession in which you try to bring the dead back to life (and not as zombies—unless that’s what you want).

I continually run into this problem with dead stories. They have so many problems, ranging from broken thematic elements to logic problems to plot holes that all the duct tape in the world (and parallel ones) can’t fix. Plastic surgery, like making the words shinier, doesn’t work so well if the story remains stiff and cold.

I’d been working on a novel for a long time. I’d done four and a half drafts, each one fixing some of the problems, but still full of holes. I just couldn’t get this book RIGHT. While I knew what the story’s heart was, I kept doggedly trying to rewrite it and getting nowhere. Finally I set it aside, frustrated that all that time and energy and affection seemed wasted on a dead book I just couldn’t breathe life into. I believed in the story, yet I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, why it was continually not working. So, I had this faintly beating heart (the story’s) but it wouldn’t survive inside its old body.

Well, what if I found a new body for the story-heart? What if I scrapped everything (all 4.5 drafts) and started over, this time not trying to fix the old framework and plot points and subplots, but constructing new ones? And it clicked. Raising the old book from the dead wasn’t working, so I would play god and create a new body. Sure, there were some same elements, but it was new (and shiny!) and best of all, it fixed ALL the problems I’d had with the old version.  I took the story’s heart and transplanted it—and the novel lived. (It’s alive… ALIVE!)

Oh, it wasn’t easy. (Is mad science or necromancy ever easy?) I was tossing a lot of stuff I’d spent a long time building. It was painful. But I knew what the core of the story was, knew the story I wanted to tell. And even though starting over meant doing all that work over again, I was so much happier with the results.

It’s tough to let go; it takes guts to throw away the things you get attached to, flawed though they are, and start over so the end result is better, stronger, tougher. (Keep the old stuff. You never know when you can salvage it for spare parts.) Failed experiments are okay, though—they teach you what to do and what not to do. And eventually you’ll figure out the right way to get the story the way you want it.

There’s no one way to raise the dead, or fix a story. But knowing what the story’s heart, knowing what it’s REALLY about, makes necromancy and mad science (and writing) a lot easier to pull off.

A. Merc Rustad does indeed write about necromancers, mad scientists, and zombies. (She also has an undiagnosed parenthetical addiction, but she’s working on it.) You can find her at her blog, or on Twitter as @Merc_hyn_di.