Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When that brilliant idea doesn't seem so brilliant half-way through the writing process

Although it is only recently that I’ve managed to produce something readable for the general public, I’ve written many stories over the years. Today, though, I was reflecting on the novels that I’ve written and then abandoned. In general, once I’ve generated an idea and actually start writing on it, I finish. I don’t think this is the result of dogged determination or discipline as much as a reflection of the fact that I try to only write the kind of thing I want to read. It makes the actual writing process very fun for me. Editing . . . not so much fun. That's perhaps why I've only managed to produce two decent works and only rather recently. I've slowly (with the aid of critique partners and beta readers) acquired the necessary editing discipline. 

In considering the two major projects I abandoned, they were both helped me realize a lot about the kind of things I enjoy in books and, consequently, the kind of things I enjoy writing.

The first abandoned project was a somewhat dark YA paranormal. The story concerned a college freshman that learns she is a faerie. Unfortunately, she learns this because a group of faerie-hunting humans called the Iron Sword attempt to capture and kill her. She only manages to escape with the aid the human agent (who was posing as her roommate) of a faerie-affiliated group. After she thinks her roommate is killed, she ends up being saved by another faerie who also, conveniently enough, is also a hot guy. The twist is that he’s actually the bad guy. He’s been seducing her as part of an attempt to resurrect the spirit of Baba Yaga (who in this book was going to be depicted as a sort of dark faerie-witch hybrid). It had lots of angst, magic, ruthless guys with iron swords, random references to Wisconsin and Illinois (I live in Madison, WI) and what not. I wrote a good 2/3rds of the novel before abandoning it. After all that planning, developing, and work, why did I abandon it? One simple reason: protagonist agency.

One day, after I spent a good hour editing, I realized the protagonist basically had no agency. She spent the entire book being pushed from one person to another person. Everything happens to her, but she initiates nothing. Now, I don’t think that all protagonists have to be action heroes or whatever, but something really bugged me about a protagonist who is nothing more than a leaf on the plot wind and spends the entire book being just timid, sad,scared, and manipulated, even it was a totally realistic reaction to the situation she was in. Part of the problem with this was that it made everyone around her seem more interesting. Her roommate/guardian, her boyfriend/evil dude, et cetera. I toyed around with some rewrites and realized I was so dissatisfied with the result that I abandoned it.   It did, however, rise again in a sense. I took many of the elements of the plot with some slight tweaks and incorporated them in as the plot of an adult urban fantasy novel I wrote that focused on a different protagonist who was involved in the search for a faerie girl who had gone missing.

The second novel I abandoned for a totally different reason. I had started working on a YA paranormal about a girl who can see ghosts but since no one else can, she’s been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. The book concerned her meeting up with a ghost hunting other, far more evil ghosts, but the main idea was to make it ambiguous (i.e., as no one else can see the ghosts, maybe it really was all in her head). When I got about half-way through this, I felt  uncomfortable. On a certain level, I wondered if what I was writing was somehow insulting to schizophrenics. Now, who is to say? One thing that strikes me about people raising sensitivity complaints is that horrifically serious things like murder are treated very casually in certain genres that are often considered light, fun escapist reads (e.g., cozy mystery). I've seen no one make the argument, for example, that cozy mysteries shouldn't be around because there are a lot of suffering people who've left friends and family to murder. Anyway, despite my intellectual defense of the idea, I found I still felt very uncomfortable with the project. My spouse told me I was thinking it through too hard, but, ultimately, I abandoned the project.

I was inspired to write this post today, though, because when I was flipping through my blogs, I saw a new YA book coming out with a very similar premise (unfortunately, I can’t remember the title or the blog I saw it on). Basically, a girl gets committed because she can see ghosts no one else can. Now, reading through the blurb and what not, it didn’t really strike me as exploitive or outrageous, yet in my own case overthought my way to abandoning the project. If I can find the blog (or the book) again, I’ll probably buy it. My reader interface with the idea was quite different than my writer interface.

I’m curious. If you’re a writer, why have you abandoned projects in the past? If you’re a reader, what sort of things make you want to abandon a book or make you uncomfortable?


Lindsay said...

I've abandonedmore projects than I'd care or want to could. And for multiple reasons-weak plot, I din't believe the story, none of the characters spoke to me. It wasn't until my current, soon to be released book, work did things gel. And it's flowed over into the sequel.
As a reader I get tired of long, page after page upto a whole chapter of a love scene. Especially, in a lot of cases they don't move the story forward but stall the story. Also, having to much description of a place unless there is something going on in the area, ie. room, kitchen, hallway. Then include only what's important to make the scene work.

J.A. Beard said...

It's always great when everything finally comes together creatively.