Last year I wrote a novel. It’s a sci-fi-ish story that begins when a group of people at a remote bar are suddenly detained by a group of soldiers without any clear insignia. It was one of those high-concept premises that just grabbed me—as an inveterate pantser I was psyched to find out why, exactly, these people were being held, and how they would get out of it.
After finishing the novel, I let it sit for a bit, then re-read it. And I didn’t like the second half of the book. The setup still grabbed me, but the way I solved the problem and answered the question of why just seemed kind of expected and unsurprising—I went down some obvious roads.
So I deleted 40,000 words and jumped back in. I wrote a totally new backend to the story, which was pretty easy because the first half spun on that mystery, and most of the action revolved around the people in the bar forging alliances and working together to turn the tables on their captors, so it was easy enough to change the story without having to completely change the first half. I spun out a fresh batch of 40,000 words and took the solution in a completely new and more interesting level.
Then I let the book sit for a while, and realized I didn’t like this version, either.
Know When to Fold ‛Em
I won’t re-work that book again. That doesn’t mean I’m trashing the premise; I might return to it someday, but if I do it will be a start-from-scratch effort. Sometimes you just have to know when an idea isn’t gelling, no matter how much effort you put into it, or how good the idea is on paper.
I’m glad I finished it, both times. I am a big believer in finishing things, like novels. You sell 0% of the novels you don’t finish, after all—and who knows? After a decade or two I might dig these two novels out and re-read them and discover I like them better than expected. Or maybe long after I’m dead the Jeff Somers Archivist will stumble on them and they’ll be published on the 100th anniversary of my death via Zamboni flattening.