Starting over: breaking up with your novel

broken-heartYou’ve murdered all of your darlings, removed every word that wasn’t working and every lofty phrase that you thought was absolutely brilliant but unnecessary and yet your novel is as muddled as a bog. Sometimes getting up and going for a walk helps. You did that and shed a few pounds in the process. Sometimes putting it a way for a few days helps. It was put away for two weeks. You came back and it was still hideous. Sigh.

The first part of the novel was magical. It flowed effortlessly. During that time your smile was a little brighter; you actually cooked breakfast in the morning for the kids and even found yourself humming a little 80’s ditty while you were at it. New relationships can do that to you.

Somewhere, midpoint maybe, further perhaps, something began to change. It was nothing that you pinpoint exactly; it was just a feeling. You tried to deny it and kept showing up and plugging away—that’s the way we do it when we want a relationship to work. And now, well into the story, so much time vested and you have a half novel that is going nowhere. To continue on would be pointless. You both know it. But sometimes it is so hard to end it…properly.

In 2005 I was involved with such a novel. It started to become convoluted at about midpoint. I’d vested so much time and energy into writing the novel; I’d interviewed people, did proper research and so on. Now truly I’m the kind of person who has to finish things. I suppose it is my upbringing. (You didn’t leave the dinner table until your plate was clean even if that meant the grease had started to congeal around your pork chop.) To inject some life into it, I added more characters—just a few. It seemed they didn’t have much to do, and as a proper writer would, I added another subplot or two to keep them busy. And Yay, I finished it!

Finally it was time to for a read-through. I was so proud of myself for my stick-to-itiveness. It wasn’t long before I saw I should’ve broken it off a long time ago. There were so many characters going in as many directions. I was like a game show contestant trying to figure out the main plot, subplot and who in the world was the real protagonist? Two-thirds into it I stopped reading, flustered, eyes crossed. I could only imagine what an agent or editor would’ve said. (Had they even gotten as far as I did.)

What do you do when you do when you think it might be over

Do a read-thru  a check for blatant technical issues

Perhaps there are too many subplots; maybe the characters aren’t completely developed. If there are just technical issues these can be fixed. It may be a tedious fix, but doable. But if it has too many variables you may need to erase the board and start over.

Is your subject worth writing a novel about?

Many stories begin with an idea or a subject for which we are passionate and we think: I’m going to write about this! This is great when our emotions are high. But is the subject sustainable as a novel? Perhaps it works better as a short story, or maybe a subplot of a bigger story. Maybe it doesn’t work as a novel at all. Perhaps it’s more suitable for non-fiction. Don’t be afraid to take a look at other options.

Have you stopped caring about your characters?

If you’re trying to make yourself care about your characters imagine the horror you will put your reader through. Stories that are forced often sound forced or staged. Perhaps it just wasn’t a good idea to begin with. Sometimes we have to reexamine our reasons for writing the novel. Was it because everybody’s doing something in this genre and you don’t want to be left behind? Maybe a friend suggested it but you really couldn’t care less out it. Perhaps because of your experiences you haven’t developed an objective take on the subject. If you don’t care about your characters it will be difficult to continue to write about them. Letting go is hard, but holding on can be brutal.


About Dorcas Graham

I have been a professional writer for more than 20 years; primarily technical writing and freelance journalism. My passion for fiction writing brings me here. Now I have the opportunity to pursue what I love! My debut novel, In Three Days is now available on and I'm happy to share this exciting journey with you. In addition to updates of what's happening, I will also add tidbits of information and writing tips I have learned along the way. I welcome your comments. Enjoy!
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