When the Novel Bites Back
Out there in a bone graveyard is a place where manuscripts go to die. We call them the trunked novel. Sometimes it’s because the novel is so bad that no one should ever witness the horror. Others have a sordid past that people won’t bother whispering about.
That’s my first novel, Remember No Evil (RNO). I came from writing short stories, steered there by well-meaning people who thought a novel was too big for me to handle (I was 8 when I started writing). But novels were what I wanted to write.
I was excited about the story and jumped right in. About page 100, it stalled. I didn’t understand why. Writers tell us now to skip ahead when that happens, but I didn’t know that. I scoured the craft books for advice and didn’t find anything. So I finally decided to revise what I had. Surely that would help me find the problem!
Got to 100 pages, same problem. What could it be? So I continued to look through writing books and try rewriting. I’d get so stuck that I’d return to short stories for a while, then come back to the book. No luck. I followed this pattern for a long time. I was so frustrated I would have switched to a new novel project, but I didn’t have any other novel-sized ideas. I didn’t know how to come up with them.
Then one day, I was reading a craft book and something jumped out me. It said that short story writers often have problems writing longer works. Could that be it? The more I thought about it, I realized I had never left the story story mindset. I had started out writing the book like a long short story. I also imagined the chapters as long short stories.
So I did an outline based on one in that same book to see if that would help. At the same time, I was approached by a friend to cowrite a book. He was familiar with the problems I was having and thought our strengths could shore up the other’s weaknesses. That meant a new book from scratch.
I’d have to stop writing RNO. I felt on the verge of getting past the 100 page hump. But I also realized that if I didn’t switch to a new book I might never finish one. I couldn’t trunk it even though I know knew I should, so I decided to set it aside with option to return to it after I finished what became Valley of Bones. No stalls on page 100. I’d finally finished a novel!
Now with that success in place, I returned to RNO and now understood somewhere along the way I’d grown out of the story. It carried a lot of baggage from all the rewrites, and the idea was no longer me. Cowriter thought we could tackle it after Valley of Bones, but no, I wasn’t going to resurrect it from the grave.
What’s your trunk novel story?