Thursday, October 25, 2018

Resurrecting an Unfinished Book

In September, I decided I didn’t like the book I was working on. I had written almost 30,000 unimaginative and dull words. Depression hit me like a body slam. World events had me reeling, breaking my concentration, but I couldn’t blame that for a crappy story. I put the book aside, hoping I’d find the trigger to motivate me with fresh ideas at a later date.

I’ve covered a lot of ground in my books, from a prisoner wrongly accused, rape, stalking, Nazis, crooked televangelists, baby kidnapping, and vigilantes to name a few. Coming up with a fresh idea was straining my overloaded brain.

And there it was: 34,000 words sitting in my computer, minding its own business. I had started the book way back in 2015, and it has one of the best opening chapters I’d ever written. Suspenseful and twisty. Intriguing enough to make a reader turn the page. My opinion, of course.

The book was my first and only foray into a political novel, and international politics at that. I touch on political themes in most of my books, but it’s usually as a sub-plot or an oblique mention around my primary theme: greed.

So why did I stop writing this particular book?

The novel explores the impact of one man’s view of how to achieve peace in the Middle East. The man is an Israeli writer, editor, and publisher of his own newspaper. To some he is a hero; to others he is a villain.

In 2015, I felt the political situation in the Middle East, always shaky and unstable, would change considerably before I finished the book, rendering it obsolete. To this date, it hasn’t, and as a political junky friend said, it probably wouldn’t in my lifetime. I decided to pick up where I had left off and not worry about the politics.

But there are other problems. Let me interject here to proclaim that I am a pantser. For those who don’t know the term, it’s a writer who writes by the seat of her pants. No outline, maybe notes. I did have two versions and am culling parts from both. All of my books are complicated, with multiple threads going in different directions. This one was no exception.
I discovered timelines and scenes out of sequence, so I rewrote them in one, two, three order. My critique partner felt I had fleshed out the antagonist too deeply in the beginning, then dropped him like a hot rock. Was he worthy of more pages, or should I trim the pages I’d already written? After some thought, I decided to justify the character I’d created and give him a proper denouement.

My biggest problem was how to return to my 2015 mindset. Being a pantser, the story and characters tell me where to go. I’m not quite sure I’m going to the same place I planned to go four years ago, but I now feel I’ve caught up, and I’m determined to finish the book this time.

I noticed something else while scanning my Word doc files ― another forgotten novel. This one is 94,000 words. I borrowed part of that book for one of my alter ego’s books in 2010, but the bones are still there, waiting for me to fill in the missing parts. Dare I go back to my old computer? What might I possibly find?


Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

21 comments :

  1. I have a handful of books started, then shelved for a variety of reasons. One by one, I am resurrecting them, but the original inspiration seems to have been obscured by the passage of time. Like you, I find these beginnings to now be challenging but am loath to discard them as totally without value. Can they be adapted to fit where I am now as a writer? We'll see. How about you? Are you game to go back to the old computer? Those old bones might just spring to life and dash down the road to become a great story. Go for it, Polly!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, after I wrote this blog post, I did go back into my old computer because I was sure I had written more on this story. I was right--a couple of chapters. But I also found another old story. I started reading it, and though I remembered the name of the story, I didn't remember any of what I'd written. 30,000+ words that seemed like I was reading someone else's story. Strangely, it had one of the characters in the book I'm working on. I'll have to see where this one takes me. Maybe a follow-up.

      Delete
    2. Linda, I'm sure there's a treasure trove in your present and old computers that you've forgotten about. Bet you have some good ones.

      Delete
  2. The oldest WIP I ever resurrected was more than 20 years old. Best thing I've ever written. It happens.

    And, oh yeah, definitely a pantser. I'm writing my 19th book now, and #3 used an outline. It was quite easy to write, I admit, but I'm still a pantser. I define my characters so well that I can "slip into their skin" as needed, then just fling stuff at them and let them improv. It's normal for getting a good chapter one written to take as long as writing the rest of the first draft.

    Write on, Polly!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Michael. I have tried outlining, and I just can't do it. I doubt I'd come up with some of the characters or surprises (for me and the reader) if I plotted. So many of the fun parts of my books come at the moment. You keep writing too. You seem to be doing great with 19 books under your belt.

      Delete
  3. I'm also a pantser and also have several unfinished projects around my office, some so old my print (or typewritten) copy is the only thing left. Sometimes I think about going back to one of those ideas...but usually a new idea grabs me just in time to enter NaNoWriMo again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pat, finding all these old partials is giving me a headache. I'm on overload as it is, now I'm trying to piece together what I can use and what I can't. I've never done NaNoWriMo. Maybe I'll do it this year not to start a new book but to finish at least one of the five, yes five, books I never finished.

      Delete
  4. I have a widows and orphan folder full of story ideas. I won't work on them unless I can answer some basic questions and pull together enough plot points to justify them. Usually, they remain there because they don't have enough substance. Situations aren't plots, as intriguing as they are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That means you plot, Diana. Basic questions? Plot points? Justify? Substance? My writing philosophy is "What if?" And I go from there. Usually, it's something terrible happening to my character. Chandler's Law: "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand." 'As codified by pulp novelist Raymond Chandler, Chandler's Law is a concise but evocative piece of advice for writers who have somehow painted themselves into a corner, plotwise. The addition of a new opponent or complication, usually amidst a burst of violence, can free a protagonist from where they have become mired in the current plot.'

      Delete
  5. Love the post and all the comments. Lots of things to consider as I decide, first if I will do Na-No, and second, what story idea do I try. I've never participated in Na-No for a variety of reasons, but I have no obstacles this year. I'm a pantster, too, so I don't know if just jumping in with no plan is going to work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I, on the other hand, have no problem with ideas, just the motivation to finish the story, as pointed out in my post. 30+K words for a few stories is a lot of unpublished words. Whatever you decide, however outrageous, it can't beat what's going on all around us every day. It used to be people would say that a particular story line wouldn't be believed. Not any more. Go, Maryann.

      Delete
  6. A couple of years ago I re-read 30,000+ words that I had abandoned and thought, "Hey, this isn't bad." I Finished and published it but I have to say it has not been a bestseller for me. Still I hate to waste the effort that went into those unfinished novels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too, Judy. I just unpublished a book written by my alter ego (me) because no one was reading it. I will retitle it and do another cover to see if it makes a difference. Not sure it will. Sometimes the story just doesn't grab readers.

      Delete
  7. I just finished revising a book I wrote about 10 years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading what I had written then, and that made the revision process a lot of fun. Also, since it's historical romance, I don't have to worry that the political aspect has changed in the meantime. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad that worked out for you, Barbara. What floored me is when I read the very old book, 2009, I didn't remember anything except the title. Kind of scared me.

      Delete
  8. Light years ago, I wrote a young adult novel before Harry Potter, but I wasn't able to land an agent with it, so I set it aside. That was so long ago, the file was on a floppy disc. I no longer have the discs or the computer, but somewhere in this house I have a hard copy. I'm fairly sure that all the things I thought were revolutionary and riveting might be passe now. I think I pulled everything else out of the morgue that was worth a hoot. They rest of those stories need to stay buried! Great post, Polly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Maggie. Dig that thing out. I bet with your talent, it's worth the resurrection.

      Delete
  9. I'm embarrassed to say how many books I have started (and even more embarrassed to say how many I have finished awaiting illustrations). I love your term, "pantser." That's me. I'm a pantser, too. I'm trying to become a plotter, but so far it hasn't happened. You've challenged me to dig out some of those books and see if I can shake some new life into them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whatever I can do to help. :-) I'm trying to do that as I write this. Good luck.

      Delete
  10. I don't have any advice only encouragement. I have a half dozen unfinished or so roughly drafted that I don't even look at them anymore novels. Someday I might go back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At least you draft some of them or outline them. I don't. I just start them, go about 30K, and stop for one reason or another. I will finish the fifth book in my series, but I'll have to change some things to make it work for me. Like adding some excitement. :-)

      Delete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.