Saturday, September 03, 2005

On First Books

I wrote this in reply to the question (paraphrased): "Is it better to go back and fix a bad first book, or move on to future work?" and thought y'all might find it interesting :)

I don't think a person can successfully rework the first book they wrote without a) writing a few more before hand (preferrably three) or b) professional help--such as the editor of a respected publishing house.

My experience has been that for myself and the dozens of authors I've worked with over the last five or so years, the first books are notoriously difficult to experiment, learn, and grow on. The original 'bad habits' are too tempting to fall back into, let alone see clearly, until there is enough growth and expereince writing full-length, completed novels between the original writing and going back to retool the completed first book. That means--writing three novels from start to finish--not four dozen poems or two dozen short stories. Writing a novel has it's own challenges, obstacles and rewards that can't be honed in the smaller mediums.My suggestion is to look over the older work and really pinpoint what your difficulty was.

Maybe the book is too wordy-but why? Maybe it wasn't gripping enough--but why? Find out what the *real* issues were and then set about writing a novel to address that problem. Here's what I did when I discovered that my first novel wasn't very good (after three years of working on it! Ugh!)

1) In Loving Lillie (book #1)--I thought by making the plot complex, it would 'hide' my relative amaturish writing style. I feared that a 'simple' plot would make me look simple. So, I wrote Bulletproof Bride (book #2)--making the plot as simple and straight forward as I could.

2) In Loving Lillie--I avoided a lot deeply emotional, internal passages because I was afraid to sound cliched or trite. In Bulletproof Bride, contest judges commented that my characters weren't strong enough to carry such a simple plot. In book #3--Stark Knight, I decided to make the plot deeply personal to the character's journey throughout the book. This book sold. However, I wasn't done yet.

3) In Loving Lillie--I mimicked a lot of my favorite authors--not in words, but in tone and style--I did the same for book #2, but while writing book #3, my own voice began to emerge. For the first time, I decided to write a book that relied heavily on my own personal experiences and combined all the knowledge of the previous attempts. My Biker Bodyguard (book #4) became an award-winning manuscript--though remains unpublished at the moment while I work on getting an agent.

4) In Loving Lillie--my shining moments were action-adventure scenes. I decided it was time to build on my strengths now that I'd strengthend up some of my weaknesses. I wrote book #5--an epic action adventure titled Racing the Moon--that manuscript is now being read by a fabulous agent in L.A.--it is the first request for a full manuscript I have received in almost six years of trying.

Will I rewrite Loving Lillie at some point? I hope so--I still love that book. Stark Knight also has a sequel that is in the works--but I have stopped production on that project until my publisher gives me the green light. At the moment, I am working on a follow-up book (researching) for Racing the Moon--a book combining the same sort of Michael Crichton sci-fi involving nanotechnology, government experiments, and the psychic connection between twins.

I am also developing a full-fledged series called "The Lockwood Legacy"--a sort of Lara Croft meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer series based on a family of five girls that have inherited supernatural powers from their mother. The point of sharing all this with you is that I wanted to share some of the excitement that can be found when you go beyond the first world you created and loved as an author.

There are so many different options one can pursue when building their writing repetoire and launching their career. Too often, that beloved first book is so tempting to keep at the forefront of an authors decision-making processes. Not always a mistake, but it can be limiting. The point is, I made some creative choices based on fear--fear of my own voice not measuring up, fear of writing emotionally deep, fear of being seen as an amature.

Why not try a new book, using your new perspective, and one that helps strengthen the weaknesses you found in book #1, while at the same time, builds on what you're good at and uses personal experiences from your own life? That sounds like a great project to me ;)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.