In July 2013, I decided to abandon the novel I had been working on for a couple of years.
In the Beginning…
I began writing with great enthusiasm during NaNoWriMo in November 2011. At that time, I had completed the Open University course “Start writing fiction” and had just enrolled in a BA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University. I was an avid reader and knew a bit about writing.
At first it was easy. By the time I started typing I already had the story set out in my mind. I knew who the characters were and had developed back stories for them. I even had the key scenes sketched out in my head. I typed quickly, I typed furiously and the words just flew onto the page.
Then came a six month period when my NHS work took over my whole life and, during this hectic time, I didn’t touch my masterpiece. When work calmed down, I tried to get back into my story. I decided to read the whole thing through from the beginning because I had forgotten the details of what exactly had happened previously.
In the two years since I started the novel, I have learnt a tremendous amount about story structure and characterisation. And, more importantly, I have done a great deal of writing – blog posts, short stories, Birkbeck assignments, flash fiction – all while continuing to work on my emerging novel.
I began rereading my opus. But what was this? What was this rubbish I had written? Horror! Yes, with my newly trained writer’s eyes, I realised the terrible truth.
My wonderful novel was a total mess.
To be fair to myself, some parts are reasonably well written. There is tension and drama and mystery and interesting things happen. But the vital ‘mechanics’ of the story just aren’t right. The engine is broken.
Here are just some of the things that are wrong with my novel:
- I swap points-of-view (POV) as if playing musical chairs. At least 6 characters get a chance to air their voices when, that is, they are able to shout above the loud noise being made by the intrusive and omniscient narrator. It makes for giddy reading.
- I open the story from the POV of a minor character and, although I do plan to bring her back later, she is only a bit-player in the drama. Yet she turns out to be the most authentic and interesting character in the novel – in terms of voice and characterisation. Where did she go? And why did she go?
- Meanwhile, my two main characters limp along through the story, and are almost crowded out by other players.
- My main male character is supposed to be an action-type kind of guy, but doesn’t do anything much except worry about things.
- My main female character is supposed to be the character around whom the story revolves – but she is very passive and rarely makes anything happen. She’s a bit of a victim really and rather annoying.
- And I commit another beginner’s error: my genre is totally muddled. The setting is sci-fi but the opening is murder-mystery and the middle section deteriorates into a soppy romance. The final section is heading towards a court-room drama.
- Who is going to read this story? I don’t know.
- Where will it sit on the shelves of the bookshop? Haven’t a clue.
- And, most importantly, what agent / publisher is going to be interested in this mongrel? No-one. Nobody. My book is unsellable.
And that is why I abandoned my novel.
10 thoughts on “A writer’s confession: why I abandoned my novel.”
Join the club. Now all you have to do is fix the problems. Of course this is advice from someone who has abandoned three books and never gotten back to them.
I think the thing is to write a first draft incredibly quickly, ignore or circuit difficult bits. Then with at least the draft in hand you can rewrite, The novel I am writing at the moment is speeding along, almost as though it was being dicateted to me which is quite spooky. Good luck http://www.johnbainbridgewriter.com
That’s quite funny! It was clearly your practice novel – you just didn’t know that at the time.
Oh dear but thanks for sharing this Ruth. I’ll bear all these points in mind as I plough onwards with my own literary effort. I too started with the ‘wrong’ main character too. I realised that the teenage girl wasn’t strong enough to carry the story alone so I’ve now got three POV characters. Genre? It’s recent historic (70s), not really a thriller or crime novel (though not everything is revealed until the end) and it’s definitely not a romance. Is mainstream drama is genre?
Genre is a tricky one, isn’t it? If it’s 1970s then, according to my Birkbeck tutors, you can call it historic. Not sure about ‘mainstream drama’ – but maybe you could start a new genre? 🙂
Hi Ruth, I’m a bit late replying here, sorry, life is hectic.
I could say the same about my own novel, I’m convinced many of us go down this route without realizing it. I’ve wanted to chuck mine many times since I wrote it in 2011, I’ve been on and off it, citing all sorts of things like cross genre, weak characters, overly complicated plot etc
Finally, deciding I still believe in the story. I’m going to rewrite it. Endeavour to fix what I can, and see where that takes me. This writing game isn’t easy is it?
Good luck with your projects.