Tuesday, September 21, 2010

WHEN THE STORY JUST WON'T WORK

What do you do when you write a book and you don’t like it , or you force yourself to finish it? I just completed a book, all seventy eight thousand words and it just won’t work. I was tempted to pitch it, but I couldn’t. The characters were good. And I really liked the plot line.

Obviously there was something wrong, but what? There was the necessary conflict, the beginning worked, the ending was satisfying, so why didn’t I like it? I discussed it at length with my husband, who is my first reader, critique partner and first editor. What I had was the proverbial sagging middle. Too many characters doing nothing to contribute to the story. So what did I do? Throw it away, as my first inclination suggested?

Nope. I don’t throw things away. Not that nice cardboard box, ‘cause I might need it to pack or mail something later on. Nor do I throw away old tee shirts, or worn dish cloths. They make excellent rags. After all, I might decide to do some serious cleaning - one of these days. Okay, so I’m a hoarder, but I just don’t dispose of things that have a use - later. I feel the same way about my stories. If it doesn’t work, there must be something wrong but can it be used later?

The first book I every wrote is a prime example. The first draft was bad. I didn’t know it at the time since I was new to the writing game. I thought it was great because I’d never written any kind of fiction before but it was all over the place, in and out of characters’ minds, scene switching with no warning, a meandering plot. But I didn’t throw it away. I saved it, and continued to learn, and I worked on it. I rewrote, over and over again, until I was satisfied. My NY editor was also satisfied. She made some suggestions, I made some corrections, she changed one word, and it published. It even made the best seller list in one chain.

But no matter how many books I write, there is still so much to learn. The more I learn, the more I recognize my faults, like my present sagging middle.

So what am I doing with my seventy eight thousand word book? I cut out the entire middle, because it contributed nothing to the original plot. I have a good beginning, a great end, good characters, and when I’m finished, I’ll have a novella that with any luck will be worth reading.

My point? Never stop learning. You can always gain more knowledge, make it better. And for me it means never throwing a story away if the proper elements are there, (a big if - I know) Okay, so if the elements are not there, you’ll have to discard it, but if you study hard enough and keeping working at it, you’ll learn the difference. You’ll now what to save, when to save and when to pitch! Now if I could just apply the same rules to some of the stuff in my cabinets and closets...

2 comments:

Big Mike said...

Good post RepG. I've had similar experiences, not with an entire book, but with chapters or scenes. I have an entire folder with bits and pieces that did not work inside one story. Yet each time I start or finish a new book, I go back and check if, with a little twiking, I can pull something out and use it elsewhere.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the year (2008 & 2009)

Ciara Gold said...

Excellent post, Allison and oh so true. I still have my horrid first book and one of these days I'm going to salvage it and see if I can rework it. The story's there, it just lacked craft and it too, had the sagging middle.

Funny, most writers have difficulty with the sagging middle, but for me, the ending it what usually gives me fits.