Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why I Broke Up with My First Three Novels

Novel 1:
This one was more of a junior high level relationship. I never thought I could write something novel length, but my younger brother challenged me to Nanowrimo. I wrote 50K words. There may have been a plot in there; I don't remember. But this was where I fell in love with writing and got the courage to do it.

Novel 2:
This was a bit more serious. I was reading a lot of Maeve Binchy at the time, and her style of storytelling was in my head. I started writing about a little Scottish town and the lives of the people there, loosely based on my experiences living in Scotland. Halfway through the manuscript a dead body showed up, which presented a real problem. I didn't set out to write a mystery, so the first half of the book was a little weird.

I attended Killer Nashville and learned a ton, such as the fact that if you are going to kill someone in your book, sooner rather than later is probably good. I also got to know some fabulous women writers, such as Tasha Alexander and Bente Gallagher (pen name: Jennie Bentley). They were (and are) huge encouragers.

Novel 3:
This was a very grown up, serious relationship. I completely rewrote Novel 2, so I'm counting it as Novel 3. I spent a couple of years editing it, but I couldn't seem to make it work. The answer to our future together occurred at the Anhinga Writer's Conference last summer.

I sat in a class led by one of my favorite author's, Rhys Bowen. She had us fill out a worksheet that outlined some basics about character, motivation, etc. Right there was when I discovered why Novel 3 and I weren't working out—my main character didn't want to solve a mystery. She had no motivation to and, worse, no reason to either. There were no good reasons for her to find out who did it. The police were more than adequate.

This was reconfirmed when I sat down with a literary agent and outlined my pitch. Her take on the whole thing: "Jack up the premise." We also discussed POV's and the fact that I probably needed to stick with just one. That would mean chopping half the book and pretty much rewriting the other half.

I'll admit I returned to my hotel room that night a bit sick at heart. I'd put so much time into Novel 3, but it was clearly time to let go. I'd learned a lot. I got out a notebook that night and started writing a kind of journal for a new mystery—just some backstory—but it was a start.

Novel 4:
We're about five months into our relationship now, and I'm crossing my fingers that this will be the One.

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