In late 2004, I had a revelation about the 900-page fantasy novel I’d been working on the past three years – the following two thoughts, in the following order: “I don’t think I achieved good integration of all the characters’ individual plots” and “This novel is getting to be awfully long”.
My first novel was a mess.
I’d overlooked all the best advice of my favourite writing how-to books:
Crawford Kilian, author of Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, states, “The story’s plot is the synthesis of its individual characters’ plots”.
Robyn Carr, author of my all-time favourite writing guide, Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction, states among other things that,
The characters in the subplot have direct involvement with both the central character(s) and the central plot; their actions and conflicts can affect the outcome of the main plot;
and also that,
The goal is not to get everything in but to put in what works best.
That is to say that if any element of the story doesn’t contribute to either the plot, characterization or setting in a meaningful way, that element needs to be cut.
I’d disobeyed it all.
Something else Robyn Carr states is that in most cases, to write a publishable novel, it takes having first written a novel that’s not publishable.
Swallowing my pride and for the first time accepting the wisdom of this observation the same way I’d embraced all Carr’s other advice, I eventually overcame the despair that I’d squandered the past three years of my life, instead concluding that, like prayer, writing is never wasted, even when the benefits of such don’t become obvious for a number of years, if ever.
That done, the question I now found myself faced with was the following: do I try to fix my un-publishable novel now, or start something new, and rework the first novel at a later date? For I did have an idea for a new novel by this time – a lower-concept, shorter, standalone idea that, in my opinion, would be much more marketable for a first-time author – which was yet another factor making my writing of the first novel feel forced.
To be perfectly honest, I really did want to stop Novel #1 and begin work on Idea #2, yet at the same time, I felt guilty. It seemed so foolish to me to come so close to finishing a project (by this time, I was some two chapters away from completion) only to abandon it, the fact the plot was no longer working for me notwithstanding.
I told myself that at least if I finished it, I’d have a complete unit to work from when it came time to rewrite it. And that at least the voice of this final section would be consistent with the latter portion of the novel (as opposed to most of the rest of it, which, in having been written over three years, probably already read like something written by fifteen different people!)
As well, I was haunted by my horoscope; I’m not a firm believer in astrology, however the notion that Sagittarians are supposed to have trouble finishing things had always been of concern to me with respect to my writing given that failure to complete projects is one of the primary reasons many aspiring writers never get published. (But me and my bizarre relationship with the star signs is a whole other blog entry.)
So I pressed on with Novel #1 … for a little while, anyway, but Idea #2 refused to be so easily pushed aside.
First, this new idea, which since August 2003 had already evolved from Idea #2 into Idea 2.1 and then Idea 2.2, suddenly made a quantum leap into Idea 2.3 – its most exciting and coherent iteration to date. I started spending more and more of my off-time thinking about Idea 2.3 instead of Novel #1 – harmless, I told myself, for since I already knew what was going to happen in this version of Novel #1, I didn’t have to ruminate on it so much.
The next thing I knew, however, I was keeping a second electronic writing journal devoted solely to Idea 2.3, and even drafting my new novel’s opening lines.
The new journal was ostensibly to keep my two projects separate, but the truth of the matter was that I was making ready to bail on Novel #1. I was like a girlfriend about to cheat on her man; the new journal was the first step.
The second step was when I ceased working on Novel #1 for three whole weeks to do up an outline for Idea 2.3.
This outline completed, I returned to Novel #1, restricting my contact with Idea 2.3 to simply reading research books to help me fine-tune its plot and setting.
But the damage had already been done. By March 2005, I stopped writing Novel #1 exactly one page and one chapter away from completion.
The three-year love affair had ended.