• 333

Old novels and other unpublished work

A serious question: is it worth trying to salvage the novels we have stashed away in a drawer? It's always been a goal of mine to write a book and so far I've written three and a half. And they all have one thing in common: no premise! I was a 'pantser' but realised the error of my ways and haven't written fiction for over two years. I'm not short on concepts but have no premises to go with them. Every so often I revisit my old novels with a view to restructuring them but they feel as if they are set in stone. Anyone else find it hard to nail down a premise that includes goals and stakes? I'd love to write a 'proper' novel but won't put pen to paper until the premise roadblock has been smashed.

0 0 0 0 0 0
Replies (9)
    • An interesting challenge, Elle.

      That you recognise the shortcomings of your earlier efforts indicates how far you have come as a writer. That you feel those existing stories are somehow sacrosanct suggests you still have a way to go; one price of a pantser approach is that major reworking is de rigueur.

      One way to approach this, if you want to resurrect one of the old projects, would be to read through it, then put it aside, and plan out a rewrite. Not as the same book, per se – give it a different title to help dissociate them – but as a derived project. Write the replacement without referring back to the original.

      Of course, there is a caveat on this: do the ideas underlying those projects still hold your attention as they did when you first worked on them? Or are you trying to revive them so that they don't feel like wasted effort? (They're not wasted. They were learning exercises.)

      Whatever you choose to work on next, it should be a project that engages your emotions.

      0 0 0 0 0 0
      • What's the difference between a concept (which you say you have no shortage of) and a premise (which you say you lack)? I would guess that it's just a matter of scale. In other words, among your concepts hide many incipient premises.

        Don't go back to your 3.5 novels except in your head. How would you summarise each of them? If you can't do it in one sentence, do it in three or four, one for each major "concept". I suspect that your list includes one notion that might form the spine of a new story. It might well be the first concept you thought of, as that was the strongest memory. So choose, or find, the mother lode. Expand it until it has the weight to form the central arc of a novel. Then mine the rest of your memories of the original story for characters and subplots.

        Or put it all down to experience, and work on a new central idea. It's all right to be a pantser, but if you don't have a general direction, you will plot out (pun intended) a zigzag mess. If you're a brilliant writer writing very literary avant-garde fiction you may get away with it. But if you are doing any kind of genre, your story needs its spine.

        0 0 0 0 0 0
        • Rick, you're right when you say I don't want the old ones to feel like a waste of time 😊

          Glyn, I do have a new concept/idea but again there is no spine! 🙃

          0 0 0 0 0 0
          • I have lots of things or parts of things I have written in the past which will never go anywhere but I have learned that, as Rick says, they were not a waste of time, they were part of a learning process. I also enjoyed writing them so that isn’t a waste. I toyed with them a lot over the years but none of them will ever be published. However, some of their ideas and characters can be slipped into something new that I can write in a more grown up way now that I have found J W and discovered all the things that I was doing wrong. So I haven’t given up on my pipe dream and one day I might get something published. If not, I’m still enjoying the ride😀

            0 0 0 0 0 0
            • Different and maybe wrong viewpoint here, but I have found sometimes getting mad at myself/my manuscript can free me up to chop and cut and rearrange and discover important nuances to a struggling project. You can work on a copy of your file, title it B or something, and have at it, without destroying your original. For me, sometimes the anger/passion breaks the mesmerism and allows me to make a breakthrough, even if it's just for a paragraph that is suddenly seen in trying a different POV or tense. Try changing the tense. I changed my struggling book from past tense to present and suddenly I could get into my peeps heads and learn more about them to advance the story than I was able to before. Change it up-- print it out, read it with fresh eyes. Make a pdf, change the font, read it in email form -- anything to trick the brain into seeing it as NEW, and therefore objectively. It's a take on the old artist's trick of turning their canvas upside down or holding it up to a mirror. It is astounding how you SEE things (good or bad) you didn't see before! This may all be bunk but, I have found it helps me.


              0 0 0 0 0 0
              • I think the secret may be deciding first of all what story it is you wanted to tell - your elevator pitch should help there - and having decided what the main theme of the story is what characters are essential to the telling of that story.  Sometimes it's what I cut out which I find is the most revelatory, and it must be said that some characters have a life of their own and won't be cut so sometimes I just go with them instead of the original 

                0 0 0 0 0 0
                • An interesting question - my first ever attempt at writing really stinks but it was a stepping stone and like songs I have folders full of bits of songs musical interludes, guitar and synth sections that sometimes I go back to and use in something else and my writing is like that, I might occasionally go and borrow something or someone from another piece of writing that I can use in the most recent manuscript/s. Older stuff that never made it can be useful but I'd never try and inflict my earliest efforts on anyone....

                  0 0 0 0 0 0
                  • I've tried to cannibalise parts - characters, plot elements, settings - from an old manuscript. It never worked. I suppose a good novel is so integrated (around the premise?) that taking an element from another is bound to fail. I'm still hoping to find a role for some of the characters from that first novel, but each new project seems to preclude that possibility. Still, I'm proud of that novel, as a learning experience and as something that I think was quite good, even if it will never be read by anyone but me.

                    0 0 0 0 0 0
                    • Cannibalising isn't working out for me either! :) Letting go and moving on is probably the better solution.

                      0 0 0 0 0 0
                      Not logged in users can't 'Comments Post'.
                      •  · 1 friends