Revisions part 3: The Detour #amwriting

We who write fantasy and other genre fictions are story-tellers.  We write about invented people living in invented worlds, doing invented things. Unfortunately, there are times when we realize we have written ourselves into a corner, and there is no graceful way out.

This happened to me in 2019. I took one of my works in progress back from 90,000 words to 12,000.

That was the point where I began fighting the story, forcing it onto paper. I hated to admit that I had taken a wrong turn so early on, but by the 50,000-word point, the story arc had gone so far awry there was no rescuing it.

But I’m no quitter. No sir, not me.

I spent 40,000 more words refusing to admit I had “gone off the rails.”

Fortunately, much of what I had written can be recycled into a different project. NEVER DELETE months of work. Don’t trash what could be the seeds of another novel. Save it in an outtakes file and use it later:


I had accomplished many important things with the 3 months of work I had cut from that novel.

  • The world was solidly built, so the first part of the rewrite went quickly.
  • The characters were firmly in my head, so their interactions made sense in the new context.
  • Some sections that had been cut were recycled back into the new version.

Writing the failed novel wasn’t a waste, just a detour. This sort of thing is why it takes me so long to write a book.

At the 12,000 word point, I needed a new outline. I spent several days visualizing the goal, the final scene, mind-wandering on paper until I had a concrete objective for my characters.

I finally realized that Alf had two quests, both of which were core plot points. I was unable to visualize a final scene because they had merged in my mind.

Beginning the novel with no definitive resolution was how I had lost my way.

So I separated them, and now I had a concrete goal to write to.

That was when I realized this book is actually two books worth of story. The first half is the personal quest. The second half resolves the unfinished thread. Both halves of the story have finite endings, so the best choice is to break it into two novels.

With that in mind, I outlined the first half, made a loose outline of the second for later reference, and began writing.

I was near the end of part one when I saw the flaw in my outline. This was 4 days into NaNoWriMo 2020, and I had just finished writing the ending to my serialized novel, Bleakbourne on Heath. I planned to finish Heaven’s Altar, and dove right into it.

I began to make good headway.  If you are a regular visitor here, you know what happened.

In trying to resolve the logic for the antagonist, I had to know the path that a tainted relic had take through the years. I needed to know where it originated and how it had survived for centuries, and why it had the power to corrupt my antagonist.

I accidentally wrote a completely different novel with a completely different cast of characters and plot. I finished November 2020 with around 90,000 words on three projects.

That accidental manuscript is in the final stages of my rewrite and is nearly ready for my beta readers.

For those of you who are keeping count—that’s 3 novels in progress in that world, and one almost complete stand-alone novel set in a different world entirely.

And it’s all because of one core plot-point and the logic of how it comes into my original, still unfinished, novel.

There are times when we must accept that we are forcing something and it’s not working. That’s when the best course is to look at it dispassionately and pare it down to the bare bones.

The sections you cut can be better used elsewhere.

I believe in the joy of writing, the elation of creating something powerful. If you lose your fire for a story because another story has captured your imagination, set the first one aside and go for it.

We who are indies have the freedom to write what we have a passion for.

True inspiration is not an everlasting fire-hose of ideas. Sometimes there are dry spells, and that is when you come back to the original work. You will see it with fresh eyes, and the passion will be reignited.

Yes, that is also when the work begins, but I think of Patrick Rothfuss and his struggle to write the books in his series, the Kingkiller Chronicle. The first two books, The Name of the Wind (2007) and The Wise Man’s Fear (2011) have sold over 10 million copies.

Rothfuss’ work is original and powerful, but though his work is highly regarded, he struggles to put it on paper just as the rest of us do. Despite a decade having passed, the third novel titled The Doors of Stone has not yet been released, and some fans are highly critical of him for that.

The two published books are work I consider genius, and I am willing to wait for him to be satisfied with his work.

Patrick Rothfuss’ battle to write the book he envisions gives me permission to keep at it, to not just push out a novel that is almost what I wanted to write.

When a book that gave you so much trouble turns out to be one of your best efforts, it’s worth it.


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7 responses to “Revisions part 3: The Detour #amwriting

  1. Wow, I’ve sometimes ditched half a chapter after realising it’s not working, but never that much!
    Great to see how you dealt with it positively, I just pray I will never get into your situation, I don’t think I’d have the courage to do that.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your struggles. It’s comforting to know that sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time. Detours do not mean you give up. I do agree with you—don’t ever, ever throw anything away!

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