There are many rules of being a writer, the most obvious being that you must of course be writing something to be a writer. Another rule fairly near the top of the list is that you must always finish the story you’re trying to tell.
If you begin writing something you should get to the end of it no matter what, otherwise you could be starting a dangerous precedent in which you never actually finish anything you start to write. It’s a sound piece of advice, and one that I have sincerely tried to stick to, but I am afraid that just this once I am going to have to break this near cardinal of rules. The current story is going to be put on hold, on-hiatus, I’m taking a break etc.
For those who read this blog regularly, the decision to try something new may not be that much of a surprise. There are various posts, such as ‘When a work in progress just isn’t fun’ which certainly gives clues about my change of heart. Although this low-level of enthusiasm is really just another symptom of the real cause… I just tried to do too much.
The story was set in a new fantastic world, filled with monsters and magic and it was the tale of a young prince defeating evil and getting the girl etc. The trouble with this, as I found out, was that there was just too much for me to think about.
I enjoy world-building, I really do, I just don’t know when to stop. My OCD won’t let me rest until I have fathomed out every single thing about this new world. I try to ignore the lesser details that don’t need to be worked out and try to just get on with the real story but it’s like reading every third page of a book. You might get the gist of the story but it’s at best distracting and at worst downright annoying. My mind keeps getting filled with really good ideas, but then each one is countered by a little voice in my head saying things like…
You don’t know how the political system works
Which are the major religions?How are the dead mourned?
Do they call a cow a cow?
Do people breath Oxygen or another element?
After a while these little questions become too distracting, and it suddenly feels like you don’t know anything about your world, and if that’s the case how the hell can you write a story about it?
The decision to put this work in progress down for a while (Hopefully not forever, though) and try something else came to me when I was on holiday. I’d just read ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ in three days, so I was fueled by my love of mystery. Honestly, Fantasy is not even my favourite genre. It is certainly near the top but I enjoy murder mysteries. I like a story with a nice juicy murder in it, something for me to try (and so often completely fail) to figure out.
Even as a young chap I enjoyed watching whodunnit’s of nearly every type and genre, from the classic Agatha Christies with Peter Ustinov and Margaret Rutherford, through to TV classics such as Inspector Morse, and Midsomer Murders. I even loved Quincy, Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote. The murders don’t have to be gory or particularly gruesome, there just needs to be something for me to figure out, a puzzle. It’s one of the main reasons why I could never really get on with Columbo. The opening five minutes would always show you who the murderer was. Even if you thought of turning on five minutes later and missing that bit out, the basic premise was always ‘the person who Columbo was pissing off the most was the murderer’. They completely lost the point for me.
Anyway I digress, I thought it would make much more sense to choose a story and genre that fits in better with myself and the stories I like to read and watch. Therefore, I’m now writing a ‘locked room mystery’. It’s based in England so I don’t need to do much world building, certainly not to the incredible extent that I needed to before.
I’ve already started writing the impossible murder part, I just need to break down the details and my main character is pretty much sorted as well.
I guess, this is probably what you might call my ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card or my ‘Do-over’, my one chance to start again. This is a chance for me to use everything I have learned from trying to write the first novel, as I am not going to allow myself to do this again.
Where do you stand on this? Do you keep going no matter what, writing your book until the story is finished or do you take a more flexible route? Did you regret starting over or was it the best thing you have ever done? I’m interested to know how these worked for you.