Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ten Feet Under

Do you have a novel in a drawer, a first novel (or a later one) that never saw the light of day?

You bet I do. Except it’s not in a drawer. It’s in an asbestos-lined Kevlar sleeve, in a six-inch-thick solid steel vault, buried ten feet underground in my backyard, where it’s no threat to the welfare of

Okay, I’m exaggerating. The walls of the steel vault are only five inches thick. 

It’s the first novel I ever wrote, back when I didn’t know a dangling participle from a Flying Wallenda. I knew nothing about esoteric things like characterization and setting and plot and structure and dialogue. I did know a little bit about punctuation, but for some reason, I felt a very strong urge to use a preponderance of semi-colons (and I have a feeling I overused the word “preponderance” too).

I revised it a bit and truthfully, I liked the general story and (many of) the characters. But man, was that prose stilted and formal and phony. And some of the plot twists? Oh my! My, my, my. More than a few coincidences and, shall we say, a preponderance of character actions with questionable motivations.

You might be wondering: Why didn’t I stick with this first novel and keep revising it until it sang?

Not even the best voice teacher in the world could get that turnip to sing.

Wisely, I moved on to my next manuscript, which was clearly better written from the get-go (I guess I learned a lot from my practice manuscript). I know I’m a lot better writer now, but I don’t think I’ll be digging that first attempt up anytime soon to try to resuscitate it. And believe it or not, in some kind of weird time-warped irony, the working title of that first novel was…Unburied Secrets.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)



Jan Morrison said...

Oh Alan, I have way too many of them. At least two that I think are dead to me. I have some that I'm still working - not turnips but not opera singers yet either. We'll see. The thing is, I think, you can only learn how to write a novel by writing one. Or two. Or eight. I'm a very slow learner but I'm dogged!

Alan Orloff said...

I'm with you, Jan. I think I learned more by writing many different manuscripts than by re-writing the same one a dozen times. But different people learn in different ways!