Posted by: oneyearbook | June 26, 2009

Seven lessons to learn from my failure, Part V

We’re supposed to learn lessons from our failures. I mean, that’s what people always say when they want someone to feel better about something going wrong – ‘you’ll know for next time,’ that sort of thing. So I’ve been thinking it over. I talked about some of the reasons my first manuscript wasn’t working when I made the decision to shuck it off like a bad skin, but this week, every day, I’ll share one of seven lessons I think I can take away from the experience.


Today’s lesson covers two related topics: ambition and avoidance. IFCAH was, for lack of a better word, an ambitious novel. First, it was set in two time historical time periods, both requiring research. Second, the plot ran damn close to being a soap opera, with the number of deaths, almost-murders, love affairs and revealed secrets I managed to pack within it.

But when I came face to face with that ambition, I (metaphorically) turned and ran. Example: a major part of the plotline, the thing that forced so many of those soap-opera twists into action, hung on the villainy of one particular character. And I danced around writing any more than one scene with that character, thereby removing any plausible motivation for everyone else’s actions.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. But the lesson, I think, is that the writer must be willing in advance to face the price of that ambition.  Not sure you can write the villain  in a way that will force the main character’s hand, as planned? Maybe reconsider the main character’s action, or start over again with the villain until you’ve got it. Be willing to do the work that the book requires, not just the work that you want to do.

Also – and this is just a lesson for me – for the next couple books I’ll probably shy away from historical pieces. Some people have a level of interest in those things, in that type of research, that drives them to inhabit that world. I don’t.

Also: be wary of melodrama and over-plotting. Why did so many insane things happen in this book (especially considering it’s quite a boring book to read?) Probably because I wasn’t comfortable with my ability to flesh out a simpler plot. Things would have read cleaner if I’d taken out one of the extra-marital affairs and one of the deaths. Not that I’m against things happening in a book – but I think that I will forever be aware, when writing, when I begin to reach a certain threshold of plot overload.

Lesson learned: Ambition requires the ability to back it up.


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