A manuscript for the drawer

Last month, I attended Sleuthfest, where I had requested an appointment with an agent so I could pitch my novel, The Chained Curse. When I registered, I thought it would be easy to revise the draft, and that the plot was basically sound. Neither assumption was true, and by the time I arrived, I didn’t feel confident about the quality of the novel. I considered skipping my pitch appointment, but I had paid for it, so I went. As I talked, I realized that the plot was even weaker than I had realized.

Afterward, I gave it serious thought, and I’ve decided to retire this story. I spent three years working on it, and I no longer feel like it is important, or worth telling. I could probably salvage it, but I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time. I don’t want to waste one minute more.

Here’s what I learned from the experience.

No more “seat of the pants” plotting.

When I started working on Curse, I knew what the bad guy wanted, what my protagonist wanted, and what the ending would look like. I told myself that I would let the story emerge from the actions of the characters. That worked well for the first two chapters. In fact, the first forty-one pages are among the best I’ve ever written. The problem is that beginning on page forty-two, the plot goes in the crapper. Without a plan, I meander and introduce new elements that sound cool but don’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the story, and I never quite figure out how to tie it all together.

I’m a planner. I need to construct the framework of the story before I start to write. My plots will still emerge from character, but I need to let that happen while constructing the framework, and then build the prose around that structure.

No more paranormal stories.

It was a nightmare keeping the metaphysics from disrupting the story. I don’t remember how many times I discovered that something I’d established as fact early in the story meant that a later plot development wouldn’t work. Necessary changes would cause fractures throughout the plot structure and require a lot of rewriting to put right. It wasn’t fun.

While I have lost faith in The Chained Curse, I haven’t lost faith in my talent. Like I said, the first two chapters of the novel are good. I write crisp dialog, and my style is strong. My problem has been with keeping the plot structure sound. I think I have a handle on that as I prepare to write my next novel, a noir tale set in the world of second-division pro soccer.

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