Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 16 comments
Stubbornness might look like persistence, but sometimes it's really a hindrance to truly progressing as a writer. Yes, I'm talking about when to trunk a project.

I've been wrestling with a manuscript on and off for several years. Frankly, more off than on. I've written and rewritten the 85 pages or so of it more times than I care to count. Each iteration, I try new plot developments, adding and subtracting characters, revamping motivations. I make a little forward progress then realize it still doesn't work, and here's why: Everyone in the story has a character arc except my protagonist. 

The main dilemma is between two other characters, and my protagonist is actually peripheral. The outcome of their conflict has fairly high stakes for her life, yet she's more reactive than proactive.

It's the wrong person in the wrong story.

No amount of outlining can fix a foundational issue like this. Nor can "writing through the block." It's not a matter of being more disciplined, but of coming to terms with the fact that not every scenario can turn into a decent novel, especially if it hamstrings your POV character.

You can only write the right character in the right story.

That's very liberating, isn't it? I've had two other ideas percolating during these years, and kept putting them off because I "had to" be disciplined and finish a draft of my problem manuscript.

I had dinner with one of my CPs last night and talked through all these things, including idea #3, which she's seen as a flash fiction piece I wrote last year. As we discussed how to expand that story, a whole world unfurled in my head. I woke with character names on my lips.

If you've been fighting too long with a story that perpetually stalls, it's not weakness to trunk it. It's wisdom.

Do you quickly abandon manuscripts at the first sign of trouble, or do you persist longer than you should? What kinds of core problems make you trunk projects?


image credit: morguefile.com

16 comments:

  1. I've trunked one that I really, really like, but doesn't seem to be going anywhere with agents/publishers (and I'm not into the self-publishing thing at this point). But my other one has been my nemesis for about 2 years - the problem wasn't the characters themselves, it was my love for adding more and more and more characters! I tried an entirely new outlining, plotting, and characterization process and I think I've got it. But after trashing it 2/3 through twice, this is it. If it doesn't work, it wasn't meant to be.

    "Powering through it" is terrible advice in my mind. I'm glad you found the wisdom - and strength- to make this work for you. Good luck!
    erica

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    1. Yes, adding characters galore to jazz up a story is a sign something at the core needs work. I hope you figure out what it is.

      As for the first book, as long as you don't feel it will get stale, hang onto it. Another break in book might pave the way for it to find a publishing home.

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  2. UGH! That must be so tough. I had a book that had been revised so many times, it was like Frankenstein. It's a similar problem, but different.

    It's just so hard to shelve something you've worked on for so long. Any way to cannibalize? :D ((hugs)) <3

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    1. Aw, you're such a sweetie. I don't feel at all bad about trunking "Clearing." It took me a long time to give myself permission to kick that mess into its trunk. Breaking ties feels a whole lot like escaping a verbally abusive boyfriend.(BTW, this is my unfinished novel, not my finished one. I have big plans for it!)

      Freedom is a wonderful thing!

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  3. It's always a tough decision to trunk a novel. But I think when you know...you know. It sounds like you know. :) I'm so happy you're free of it. That you have worlds unfurling and character names on your lips. Sounds amazing!

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    1. It's funny, but for the longest time I blamed my day job rather than the more obvious problem that the story just wasn't working. When we're excited about something, we find the time, right?

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  4. I've deleted hundreds of thousands of words of things at various points, but I do find myself coming back to the same sort of ideas. I sometimes find though that having to go again from the start means that I have the freedom to completely turn a story on its head, play with new lead characters, and generally pretend that the version that didn't work never happened.

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    1. I think you're right that each writer has a cluster of themes and ideas that drive what he or she writes. There might be material I use from the trunked project. Maybe someday I will, as you say, turn the idea on its head and it will work. For now, it's freeing to step away and do something completely different.

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  5. I'm pretty willing to trunk projects. I have tons of them, many only partly completed. But I often go back to them. Sometimes it just takes a while for me to be able to finish a certain story. So I think of them as "suspended indefinitely."

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    1. As Stu said above, perhaps in time I'll figure out how to "turn the story on its head" -- try a completely new angle-- and find it will work. The suspended animation metaphor is a good one. They're waiting for a cure to be invented! :-)

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  6. I don't think I actually get rid of them, I just forget about them. I have 6 in my files right now that I haven't looked at in years. They're not finished, I want to finish them, I just can't seem to find the time. Which if I were disciplined enough, I could. (Let's add some more guilt on there, shall we.)

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    1. I've never been a slash and burn sort of person. I just keep creating new versions by date. I can always go on archaeological digs for anything I've written. The trunk idea is like Grandma's attic. It's sitting there to be discovered again at a later date.

      I think when your unfinished works are ready to be written, you will find the time. It's more a matter of passion sometimes.

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  7. Foundational problems are often why I trunk a project. I blame it on my "pantser" nature. If I spent more time analyzing my characters and what I wanted them to do, it might work out better. But when I plan too much I feel like my characters are cardboard and nothing in my book happens organically. I guess I'm still discovering that ideal writing process that will give me something fresh and structurally sound. :/

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    1. This manuscript was totally pantsed--I think that's why I keep getting stuck. For the sake of my writing mojo, I think it's time to move on to something that flows better.

      So much of process is trial and error. I haven't found my "ideal" yet either.

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  8. I do try and work out a lot of those problems while outlining. So I'll switch things up then. But if part way through I realize something isn't working, I will abandon it. I have some of those and I hope to rework them when I find a solution. Sometimes I need time away.

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    1. I think guilt-free time away would help more than anything. It's the pressure of "having to" fix it NOW that's keeping me from seeing a solution. Better that I keep up my writing habit with something new that is flowing than continuing to try to force this ms, I think.

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