Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Starting over doesn't mean giving up

Starting over, two words that can make a novelist wince. But that's what I'm doing with my latest endeavor. It's not all bad news. I'm not scrapping the concept or outline. It'll remain the same dark plot with ample opportunity to be creative. I sense the same potential, there for me to unlock and exploit as the story unwinds from my mind. But to unwind this story, I need a fresh start.  

I'm actually happy with my decision. Yes, deleting 6,500 words will probably cause a panicky moment when I consider reaching out into that cold, black space where deleted words go and try to snatch them back. I won't do it, though. I'm convinced what I have isn't salvageable, and I'm relieved to have a new plan. For some time, I knew there was a problem, but I couldn't understand why the pages I'd written, rough as they were, weren't bulging with promise. I'd look at my outline, feel the energy, turn back to the pages that followed the outline... and go take a nap. That's not good. But I couldn't quite see what would make it good.

The answer, as answers often do, hit me over the head when I wasn't expecting it.

My story's fine; my main character's a snoozer.

Part of his problem is by design. He's supposed to be dull in the beginning, until the circumstances in the pages ahead open him up and reshape him. I love characters that must change and find their best to save the day, and this poor guy is destined to face a new world, massive responsibilities, overwhelming challenges, and the love of his life. Mr. Tudball (remember the Carol Burnett Show skit with Tim Conway?) will find his inner Indiana Jones. But geeze, if the author can't hang in with Mr. Tudball long enough to meet Professor Jones, there's no way a reader could.

So I've been reinventing my main character this week. He'll still be a dull man in the opening, but with a life already in disarray, forcing him against his nature to be more interesting from page one. I came up with various options to roughen up his life. Each option would add its own distinctive flavor to the entire novel, and I felt like a kid in an ice cream parlor, sampling this flavor, then that one, then imagining what each would taste like with various combinations of sprinkles, candies, or nuts. Today, I made my selections. I don't reveal much as I'm writing, but I will say this: It ain't vanilla.


  1. Congratulations on your courage, Keith. I'm sure your readers never snooze, but maybe that's because you are willing to take a hard look at what you've written and start over if it isn't quite what you'd hoped. I can't wait to read the new work. -Judy

  2. Never easy to admit it isn't working, but I can't keep writing if it doesn't feel right. Thanks for your constant support.