Some of you have asked why I shot my first novel. I had worked on it for two and a half years when I showed it to a friend I met at a conference.
He pointed out that I didn’t have a main character. I had 8 main characters. That was about 7 too many, at least for someone of my limited skills. Also, the projected length of the novel was 220,000 words, which is more than twice too long.
Both of those are serious problems, and reason enough to shoot a novel.
So I cut the story into three parts, created a new character and made him the main character, and started all over. A few months later, I realized that the book was too long, and I decided to make it a trilogy.
So I cut the story into three parts AGAIN, and started over with the same main character. That book did eventually get finished, but it was 160,000 words, which is still too long. So after trying a couple of other things, I came back to the story, but this time with a new main character (a female this time) and turned it into a time-travel novel and made it shorter. My previous main character stayed around as a minor character.
That novel sold and it won me an award and some recognition.
The moral of the story: Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
Randy sez: The moral of the story: Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
That’s my motto. 🙂
Technically, the novel you ended up publishing is the same novel you started out with, only revamped a couple of times. That’s how mine is progressing. It’s gone through a couple of cosmetic changes, but essentially it is the same story. Characters have come and gone, plot lines have changed, even my antagonist has changed a couple of times. But it will get finished.
When my project first began, it was an autobiography written from my point of view about my twin sons who have multiple disabilities including behaviour problems. I wrote it as my thesis but then began to see problems with writing about relationships that had ended so I decided to write it as a novel based on a true story. This also has its problems. I have altered relationships so much that some family members are missing and others have been created. My sons have remained the same so I feel like I am throwing my sons into a strange family (well we probably are strange Lol). A screenwriting lecturer suggested writing it as a screenplay but then said it would be too long because of the vast time-span of 27 years. I have shortened it to 21 but it is still going to be a long novel and may have to be divided. Still, I have had many people say I should write the book so I’m tackling it. It may eventually get published when it’s eventually written. Sorry to copy your eventually, Vanessa.
Judith Robl says
Ah, ha! Do I recognize Rivka and Transgression in this confessional? I’m still waiting for the sequel to Retribution. (hands akimbo, foot tapping)
bonne friesen says
Maybe it’s not shooting a novel, it’s just shooting a draft.
That perspective may make it easier to part our precious words.
bonne friesen says
Would you believe “part WITH our precious words”.
Pam Halter says
We have to be careful with our characters. They ALL want to be the main one! HA!
Something I’d like to see you tackle, Randy, is when the villian becomes more interesting than the hero. I’m finding I have way more fun writing about the evil character and am confused as to why this should be.
Over twenty years ago I scribbled down about 50 words on a scrap of paper which I still have. Originally planned as a short story it gradually grew into a novel of around 60,000 words.
The completed novel, written fifteen years ago, is one of those bottom drawer specials, destined never to see the light of day. Useful only as a measuring stick of my progress.
Over many years I have added, tweaked and otherwise manipulated the original idea and the written novel into a much larger work spanning two books.
As my skill level has improved so has the design of this story. Now I can see the flaws in the original premise, the unfixable flaws in the novel and the planning mistakes in the current set of notes.
My point of view is that writing is never wasted. Telling a story is a very organic process and the learning of new skills reflects that as well. There is always more to learn, skills to be practiced. I know that my own learning has not been linear. It’s an osmotic process where I am continually pushing the boundary outwards.
I think when you realise you have carried a work as far as you can and it isn’t coming together as you’d planned then it makes sense to put it aside. Yet even if you never use that idea again I’m confident that you will use the skills you learned writing that particular piece.
Now if I can just overcome inertia to retackle and overcome mediocrity…
Carrie Stuart Parks says
I wrote my first novel the summer of 2004 and sent it off to an acquisitions editor. It was rejected.
When I received the rejection, I hit absolutely rock bottom. At the time, I was going through chemo for breast cancer, bald, hurting, sick, and caring for my dying mother (who passed away less than a year later.)
God blessed me abundantly, however, by placing a writing mentor in my life-Frank Peretti. Here’s what he emailed me after my rejection. It’s worth passing on:
“Okay, Seabiscuit lost his first race, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a champion someday.
Carrie, how bad do you want to be a writer? You’ve plenty of issues in your life right now, so don’t tax yourself on this question. Give it time. Finish up what you’ve left undone so you can continue unhampered, and then, LEARN. Remember how I said this first one might not fly, and so … okay, it didn’t fly. But it had to be written. You have to have some writing under your belt, otherwise you’ll never get the experience and the intuition to know what works.
Apply anything and everything you’ve learned to the current book project or any future projects. LEARN, girl. It’s learn or die, as far as writing is concerned.”
Ron Erkert says
LOL Bonne, you were right the first time. The bullet would’ve parted some of the words right down the middle.
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is a prime example of multiple main characters (7 or 8) gone awry. He includes each individual story in each novel. A lot of their behavior is illogical and exaggerated. Then, just to confound matters more, he throws in scenes with the various antagonists that the main characters are unaware of. I’m guessing he’s going for the omniscient narrator. Whatever he’s doing, he jumps around so much it’s hard the books are tedious to read and keep track of what all is happening. As a result he’s lost a lot of fans, me included.
I may be wrong here, but one way he could possibly have worked with multiple main characters in a multi-volume epic saga is to introduce everyone as he does in the first novel. As they go their separate ways, follow each individual in their own novel with the other main characters coming in as minor characters. In the final volume, when they are all reunited to save the cheerleader, save the world…oops, wrong story line (but that was another one I had a beef with because I couldn’t keep track of who was doing what)…when reunited, pick one of the main characters and write from his or her POV. I think it would keep the series fresh and the fans engaged.
The novel I’m currently working on started out trying to be a short story, but turned out to be just part of a larger story. It was rejected for the anthology I submitted it for, but the editor is interested in seeing the whole story. From the vague, misty shadows of a short story a brand new world has emerged bright and shiny, but marred by the ugliness of hate and discrimination. And I have ideas for at least 4 more novels (no sense in letting my fledgling world go to waste, I really want to explore it).
ML Eqatin says
Hi Randy, here’s what I’m puzzling over. I haven’t read the ‘wheel of time’ series that Ron referred to, but we all know lots of books that got published and sold well even though they blew all the rules of good writing; some were surprisingly readable, while others were downrigt awful. You were left thinking, “What editor would blow his company’s money on this?”
So I am testing some theses.
1.If you are well-enough known, that is, you have a following, you will sell regardless of what you write.
2. a mediocre work, well-marketed, will sell more copies than an outstanding work poorly marketed.
3. Publishers are erratic.
4. But on the other hand, most of what they receive is pretty bad. I think if you have to read gazillions of proposals a month, it must turn the brain into mush.
5. You have got to know who your writing to, and make sure that is who it will be marketed to.
So I am reading the transcripts from the recently completed book expo, sorting through and adding salt where needed.
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
Lois Hudson says
I’ve think I’ve experienced “all of the above,” i.e.:
Randy, I’ve played with characters’ lives too. Sometimes they’re gone for good, sometimes they appear in a different body, sometimes they show up in a completely different story.
Mark, I still find scraps of paper with brainquakes scribbled on them (from before computer dayks. If I remember the original premise and think it has merit, I transfer it into a computer file of ideas. Some have morphed over the years, some have found their way into other projects.
Pam, one of my evil characters did try to take over a story. Evil characters are more fun because they’re usually more interesting and three- (or four- or five-) dimensional. It’s also a challenge to keep her fascinating without stereotyping her. The dilemma was whether to redeem her or let her stay evil and face the consequences.
Debra, basing a story, or even an autobiography, on real people or events is difficult because we feel it’s necessary to recreate it exactly and bring in all the people who were involved. It sounds as if you have the seeds of several projects including articles as well as the story aspect.
Carrie, how blessed you were/are. Having a great mentor, or even a seasoned critique group is a grounding advantage. Inexperienced friends love every word, but that’s not realistic. I came from a recent evaluation where the first 23 pages were pronounced unnecessary even though the writing was deemed achingly beautiful. It was backstory that I needed to know and carefully developed (and wanted my readers to cherish), but I will now slash away to get to the real starting point.
Groovyoldlady, I have a hunch you have stories we need to hear.
Moral to us all: Nevah…nevah…nevah give up.
Arnie Birkeland says
Why you shot your novel? Because you’re a man, that’s why. A woman would have used poison.
Carrie Stuart Parks says
Carly Brown says
This is for the Groovyoldlady, I am sure the world needs and will benefit from your stories. I am an old broad as well, I feel the same thing about what I need to say. I am enjoying the process of learning not what to say, but how to say it. My life is a learning process of what to say.
From what I can gather regarding publishers as they are an erratic group and that the brain is mush because of the time that they have spent being publishers. Now, I have never met a publisher that I know of, but that is what I have gathered from “listening” to what y’all say about your experiences.
Thanks for listening, and keep posting.
MLE mentioned a point I’ve been puzzling over too. Am I picky snob? I was a reader before I took the plunge into writing, and in those days of ignorance, found WAY too many books out there that I thought purely stunk…implausible, inconsistent, too much work to read, poor research, etc. I never wondered too much about why they were published, until I peeked behind the curtain of the writing world. Everything I’ve been taught so far tells me these books should have been shot. Or poisoned.
Randy said this isn’t a just universe. There must be a little more to it…is this really what we say to a depressed writer who’s waving a loaded pistol?
Paulette Harris says
I think some of these notes I am reading are called….re-editing.
I just keep writing because I can’t help myself. I finally made it in the publishing world for small pieces but have yet to get one of my novels picked up. I just keep submitting, the chances become greater, the more often we send our work out.
Hope this helps.
I had a similar situation where I tried to write a story in three parts, each part being five years distance from each other. When I showed it to a friend, they told me I had three books crammed into one, and they were right. So I chopped each into its own portion and rewrote the first part into a full novel. It’s not a project I have revised in a while, but I enjoy the story it became and may someday return to it. Cutting the one novel into three and expanding certainly saved any potential it had.
Thanks for your comment, Lois. I have actually removed some of the real people in the story and replaced them with fictional characters. That feels strange. I hadn’t thought of having multiple possibilities so thanks for that. Yes, and I agree, the evil characters do tend to be the most interesting. Perhaps we get a chance to bring out our shadow sides. at least while writing. I used to worry if I produced a truly evil character because I wondered what people would think of me but most people would never actually do the things their characters do and most evil characters lose in the end anyway.
ML and Ron: The multiple MC thing is hard to do well unless you REALLY know what you’re doing. George R. R. Martin, Michner, and McCammon (Hey, they all start with M! ;)) are some of the ones who can do it well. Lot’s of balls in the air when you write that sort of story. I admire anyone who can do something so amazing. For an example of awesome plot and multi-MC fun everyone should read: “Pillars of the Earth” by Follet. An amazing book.
Mark: The novel I’m working on now grew from a short story. I had several of my critter partners read the short and go, “Hey, I wanna know more about this character, she’s great. This one should be a novel.”
I hope I don’t have to shoot this one. I’m really loving it.
Neva Andrews says
I completed my first middle-grade novel at age 75. I sent it out a few times and decided I might not have enough years left to wait for all the rejections. Since I had family and close friends who were waiting to read it, I self-published. Maybe it should have been shot, but I have readers who don’t think so.
Two more Jo Barkley books have followed and a fourth one is finished and seeking a publisher.
I’ve also started an adult Jo Barkley novel. At a recent conference, an editor invited me to send her a proposal. I consider the four middle-grade books prepration for my WIP. The self-published books have blessed more people than they would have sitting at bottom of a file drawer.
Speaking of characters wanting to take over, Flora Mae, the city cousin in two of my books, begged me to write “Return to Tabby Mountain” and let her be the main character. I had to tell her to sit down and shut up so I could get my Jo Barkley books written. If you think I’m crazy, maybe it’s because I’m 81!
That’s very encouraging! Especially since I have WIPs in front of the firing squad!
Pauine Youd says
Two Christmases ago I gathered up some of the stories I had written over the years and compiled them into a storybook for my grandchildren. I named it “18 Stories to Read in an Overstuffed Chair” and gave it as Christmas presents.
Lois Hudson says
I agree with Rachel’s recommendation of “Pillars of the Earth.” A great story on the building of the great cathedrals of Europe. A similar one is “Sarum” by
Edward Rutherford, the development of civilization on the Salisbury Plain in England, and the building of the Salisbury Cathedral.
When you realize that none of the artisans who started the cathedrals lived to see the completed buildings, maybe there’s hope for us who strive to build our stories on a smaller scale.
Rachel Brown says
We’ve been without power for three days following severe storms in our region – and when I finally get back online here’s Randy shooting novels and channelling Winston Churchill!
I think my perception was wrong on both accounts, though. Randy’s “shot” novel sounds more like it’s been put into a witness relocation program and given a new identity than having taken a fatal bullet. And while the thrice repeated “Never give up” put me in mind of Churchill, a quick Google informs me his famous words were actually “Never give in.”
Close enough though, and great encouragement from Randy to keep on writing even if some of our efforts don’t bear fruit.
I’ve never shot a story, though. At this stage I think I’d rather finish a novel that might never be published than leave it languishing uncompleted. Perhaps that’s the difference between the hobbyist and the professional?
I found this post very encouraging. The first (and only!) novel I’ve written turned out to be 263,000 words. At the time, this seemed very reasonable to me. When someone told me it was too long, I came up with a “short” version of 243,000 words. Now I’m hearing that a first novel shouldn’t top 100,000 words. Has anyone else heard this?
June Varnum says
Thanks, Randy, for reminding me to never,never,never give up. Discouragement has overwhelmed me. I’ve written, and had publioshed,nonfiction short, short stories and aricles.Rejections then piled up. Seems I’ve not been able to break the pattern. Now I’m writing my first novel. with quite a bit of backing up, using Randy’s snowflake method.
I’ve seriously thought about not writing anymore-well, at least for publication. Somehow, I can’t not write. It’s something I have to do.
I’ve had a problem managing time; seems many of us share that. I’m one of the older writers, live in a small house on half an acre of ground I’m trying to manage. along with upkeep on everything else. I live in a rural area-my choice to move there. There’s a story in that, too, maybe?
I gain perspective as I read all your comments.
ML Eqatin says
For interesting info on publishers, people, go to the BEA (Book Expo America) site. They have most of the transcripts of the forums and seminars in downloadable form.
Wow, these people are even less focused that I thought. Publishing must be the most hide-bound industry on the planet! But they appear to be grappling with the technology revolution. I do hope they pull it together before they all go under.
They are only just starting to notice that it is the customer who brings the money into their business, and not the opinions of other publishers.
I’m trying to work out how many chapters should be in a book and how many words to the chapter. I suppose it is too soon in a first draft to consider this.
Speaking of books that get published…
My brother-in-law suggested I read “The Secret.” (I was whining about something that day.) I said that it sounded like that old black and white movie with Rock Hudson, as a surgeon.
Before I had the chance to pick it up at Costco, I read the Skeptic’s column in Scientific American magazine, which pretty well debunked the entire concept of the Law of Attraction, as proposed in the book. (quantum physics claims)
That book went on to mega-sales, on woo-woo power? without having valid research to back it up. So Oprah, would make, well, a great “platform.” Indubitably. I’m kidding. Or not.