Sunday, July 8, 2012

When writing a novel doesn't pan out

    Hey guys,

    No, despite what the title says, this isn't about me giving up on writing. In fact, I've completed two manuscripts and have edited them. I'm now fishing around for publishers and hope to join the ranks of established authors sometime this year. If not, then certainly next year. I even have a third manuscript in the works.

    No, this is an article about a most distressing subject. A subject that virtually every author will run into every now and can be a source of endless frustration. This is when you've made progress on a novel, extensive progress in fact, and discover that you don't like the results.

    This can happen with grammar, certainly, but that can be corrected. This can also happen with description, which is harder. However, the absolute worst scenario is when you realize that the novel itself is not working.

    Damn, that's a kick in the guts.

     have a number of manuscripts both completed and otherwise that will never see the light of day. If I had to put an estimate on the number of 100K+ novels I've done that I will never ever release, I'd say there was at least five or six. That's not including concepts I worked really hard on before abandoning.

    There's an old saying that the first one million words that every writer creates are crap. I don't necessary believe this is the truth but there's a little merit to the saying. Finding your footing at a writer is a long and torturous exercise.

     You could be halfway complete through a work only to find that it's filled with stock characters, banal dialogue, cliches, unoriginal ideas, or relies on contrivances that are essential the story. You can't rip one offensive element out without the whole thing tumbling down.

    I'll share with you one storyline of mine that will probably never see the light of day: Queen of Wands starring Anna Tarot. Anna Tarot was a exceptionally cool twenty-something sorceress who has a half-dragon boyfriend named Gabriel in a magical Los Angeles. There's evil afoot in the magical college-like environment she attends and she's drafted by the local secret society to stop it.

    There was nothing terrible about the above concept but the way I implemented it failed spectaculary. For example, as a white thirty-something male Geek, I know nothing about writing a "cool" character. My own romantic experience influenced my writing so the way the characters talked was inappropriate for the characters. I also inserted a lot of 'silly scenes' that were next to serious ones, leading to a wildly inconsistent tone.

    Oh and my wife hates Gabriel. Seriously. He's the one character I made who she could not stand.

    This is what leads to the most difficult decision a writer can face: when not to proceed with a novel. Stephen King, himself, actually wrote about the phenomenon in Bag of Bones when he described trunk novels. When you're a young and hungry author, you can create hundreds of manuscripts buit that doesn't mean any of them should see the light of day.

    I hesitate to tell you to hit the delete key, however. In fact, I strenuously urge all writers to keep all of their work, whether in hard copy format or backed up on a hard-drive. Even if you have decided, perhaps correctly, that a work is terrible it's an important part of the writing process. You may want to revisit it someday.

    J.R.R Tolkien fiddled with the Lord of the Rings from the time he was a soldier in the trenches of first World War until after his son fought in the second. His original concept was closer to what we call the Silmarillion and it wasn't until after he created a character named Bilbo Baggins and he got published that what we know as his masterwork got published.

     There's no shame in writing something, completing it, deciding you don't like it, and then rewriting it from the ground up. This is a part of the writing process and sometimes in order to see if something works or not, you have to see how it looks on paper. Other times, you might want to fiddle with the concept itself.

    Finally, there's something to be said for a writer getting cold feet as well. Plenty of times, you can develop an aversion to your own writing when there's nothing wrong with it as well. For that, you just need to set down your work and come back to it later. Maybe with fresh eyes, it'll look better later or you can figure out where you went wrong and rework it. You could also say, "nah" and start something new.

    It's all part of the game.


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