Thursday, May 4, 2017

Shaking Off the Rust – The Perils of Reviving Trunked Novels

Posted by: Nicole Luiken

My particular writing process has always involved a cooling off period between the first draft and revision. 

Sometimes that’s a good thing: I get to bask in the feeling of accomplishment from writing an entire novel instead of immediately going back to the grind, when I go back to the novel I can look at it more objectively and (if I loved the first draft) spot the inevitable weaknesses or (if I thought the first draft was crap) see the places where the manuscript does shine. But far too often when I was younger, I used this period to chase shiny new ideas and instead of a few months or a year between drafts, many years passed. Even, gulp, decades.

The end result is a kind of Darwinian process: only the strong ideas survive. Those stories that never quite gelled or have some fatal flaw never make it out of the first draft. And that’s okay.

But sometimes there’s an idea or a character that I love in one of those trunked novels that I want to save. Sometimes I lift that particular element out and re-use it in a new novel. For instance, the third novel I ever wrote back in junior high was called Mirror, rorriM, which has a suspiciously similar premise (though a wildly different story) from my most recent trilogy Otherselves.

And sometimes I decide to plunge in and try to save the entire story. That’s what I’m doing right now with an adult fantasy novel called Path of Power. I wrote the first draft in Fall 2000, revised it in 2004, tried to sell it—and failed. It’s been sitting in a trunk (okay, technically on my hard drive) ever since. 

I love the story premise: a powerless young queen hides behind a façade of frivolousness in order to hunt down the traitor on her regency council who killed her family. I reread the text and judge that the basic story is good, but it needs polishing, and there are some plot flaws and sections that need to be expanded. I think it could be a good novel. But I’ve spent the last month trying to rewrite it and am still only forty pages into it. 

It’s like a vehicle that’s been sitting out in a field for a decade. The car is still there, but it’s covered in a coating of rust and the engine does NOT want to start.

I have revived trunked novels before so it can be done. Two teenage novels of mine, Frost and Dreamfire, were written in the 1980s, trunked for years, and eventually published in 2007 and 2009 respectively. With those two, my writing had changed so much that I didn’t even try to revise the early drafts, but started fresh with a blank page and wrote it again. I kept the characters and plot parts I liked and threw out the rest wholesale.

I may yet have to do that with Path of Power. I wrote it in my thirties and the basic writing is fine, but I worry that my voice has changed. I need to reconnect with my main character, Deione, to slip back under her skin, and so far I’ve only managed to do so in fits and starts.

For now I shall just keep pushing and hope that soon the engine will turn over and the story gain its own momentum.

What are your experiences with trunked novels? Should they stay trunked? Have you tried to rescue one? Did you revise or start fresh?

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