5 lessons from a lost novel

5 Lessons From a Lost Novel

lessons from a lost novelMistakes are unavoidable. To fear them is to fear life itself. To try to eliminate them is to waste life in a futile struggle against reality itself.

I daresay no one has more opportunities to learn these truths than does a writer.

As writers, our lives are a never-ending litany of mistakes. Certainly mine has been full of mistakes—everything from the opening sentences I wrote for this post, thought better of, and replaced—to literally hundreds of thousands of deleted words I’ve carefully saved from all my rough drafts—to entire story ideas (representing hundreds of hours of dedicated, hopeful work) that have proven themselves unsalvageable and earned a dusty place in a back corner of a closet shelf.

I won’t say I don’t regret these mistakes. I do. I regret the wasted time and effort. I regret the bereavement of loving and nurturing something that never came to fruition. I regret my own lack of foresight, wisdom, and understanding in failing to see pitfalls before I walked into them.

If I’m being really honest I’ll have admit that, given the chance, I’d probably take back every single one of those mistakes.

Fortunately, however, that is one mistake that the very design of life will prevent any one of us from every making.

I can’t take back my mistaken words, ideas, and stories. And in being robbed of the chance to exercise my own foolish desire to do so, I am instead given the priceless gift of being able to learn from those retained mistakes.

Learning From Our Mistakes

Learning from mistakes is unavoidably natural. Even when we’re not consciously aware of the lessons we’ve absorbed from false starts, we have absorbed them. Whatever the mistakes we make in the future, they won’t be the same ones we’ve made in the past, whether or not we avoid them purposefully.

However, sometimes we will be able to consciously review mistakes at a later date. When this happens, we are essentially getting the chance to go back in time, revisit the cause and effect of earlier mistakes, and intentionally learn from them.

Again, I daresay no one has more opportunities to do this than does a writer—since our mistakes are recorded forever in black and white.

A few months ago when writing this post on the advanced principles of show versus tell, I was feeling too lazy to write up brand new examples of “showing,” so I mined an old failed story. In so doing, I was drawn back to re-read the whole thing.

This book, titled The Deepest Breath, was a story of vengeance and forgiveness set in post-World War I Kenya. Since the start of my career as a published author, it is the only novel I have finished and then abandoned—a decision I used as the basis for this post talking about three valid reasons for giving up on a story.

Re-reading this book after having grown and changed significantly as both a writer and a person was an eye-opening experience. The reason I gave up on the book back then was that I could sense its problems, but couldn’t quantify them in a way that would allow me to fix them. Now, five years after abandoning it, I can see both what was wrong and what was right about the book.

The mistakes I made then were made because I had not yet learned what I needed to know in order to avoid them. They were honest, earnest mistakes, born of the struggle to understand. Ultimately, they were mistakes that, however painful in their seeming fruitlessness at the time, were the very mistakes that taught me what I needed to now see clearly.

Some of these mistakes were unique to the story itself. But some are, I feel, universal mistakes that many struggling novelists make—and instinctively recoil from without yet knowing what exactly the problem is or how to fix it.

Today, I would like to look at five of the mistakes I made that ultimately contributed to The Deepest Breath becoming one of my “lost” novels, how I could have avoided those mistakes had I known then what I know now, and how you can learn from my mistakes.

5 Lessons You Can Learn From My Mistakes

Looking back, I’d almost argue that The Deepest Breath was the one novel, out of my novels, that I worked hardest on. I outlined and researched the heck out of it. It went through many iterations. In fact, to all intents and purposes, I wrote it as three separate and distinct novels along the way.

Originally, I intended it as a dual-timeline story with the three main characters’ “present-day” story in 1925 Kenya juxtaposed against their dark backstory during World War I. I initially decided to write the entirety of the war section first, with the intent of then interweaving it throughout the “main” story (an approach I would now adamantly reject, due to its inherent problems with organic flow between timelines).

After realizing that wasn’t working (based mostly on the epiphany that the backstory had some major causal issues), I decided to scrap the idea of dramatizing the backstory and instead just focus on the main story—about the fallout in the relationships among two men who had met in World War I and the woman they realized they both loved. I wrote one iteration (in the present tense), realized it was a mess, and rewrote it extensively in another draft (in past tense).

Along the way, the book improved dramatically. But despite all my years of work, I eventually realized it was still broken—and I had no idea how to fix it.

Now, looking back, I can see that it actually ended up being a pretty good story. There’s a ton I like about it. In some ways, I think it’s the best character piece I’ve ever written. The setting in Kenya is one of my best realized settings ever. The plot is quietly foreboding, the pacing moving slowly and yet with the power of a train hurtling toward an inevitable collision.

And yet… it didn’t work because at the time I wrote it, I didn’t understand enough about the fundamental principles of story to be able to ask myself the five following questions.

1. Who Is the Protagonist?

The Problem: The one unavoidably massive issue with this book was its pervasive lack of focus. Ultimately, it’s a story of a complicated love triangle. Each of the three main characters were equally important, and I chose to equally balance the story amongst their three POVs.

Nothing inherently wrong with that. But at the time I wrote it, I didn’t yet fully understand how story structure guides and creates a story’s focus. This showed up in several areas of this story, but most obviously in the fact that I clearly didn’t understand who this book’s protagonist was. And if I, as the author, didn’t know, then how were readers supposed to know?

But… couldn’t all three main characters be the protagonist?

That’s actually a question I’m asked frequently by writers in regard to their own stories.

What I understand now (and didn’t back then) was that the answer is an unequivocal no.

The Fix: A story’s structural unity is bound up in the relationship of important plot points to the protagonist. However prominent other characters may be, the protagonist is the one who ultimately defines the story.

How?

By providing a strong, consistent throughline. The structural beats tell us what a story is about. If the First Plot Point is about one character, the Midpoint about another character, and the Third Plot Point about still another—then this is a story that doesn’t know what it’s about.

So, in a story in which multiple characters are prominently important to the story, how do you decide which is the protagonist?

The best way of identifying your story’s “throughline” character or protagonist is by examining the Climactic Moment. Which character is the agent of action in the Climactic Moment? Which character definitively ends and/or comments upon the plot’s primary conflict? This character is the character who defines the story. This is the protagonist. This is the story’s linchpin. That must be reflected at every major structural point throughout the story. Otherwise, your story will fall into the same category as mine—a beautiful mess.

2. What Is the Essence of This Story?

The Problem: Too often, when a story’s structure is left undefined by a strong central character, the result is a correspondingly wobbly theme.

In my case, The Deepest Breath was actually a deeply thematic novel. What interested me most about it was its theme: of undeserved forgiveness. The title itself was a quote from the story’s climactic line when one character finally acted out that forgiveness on behalf of another.

So you’d think the theme would have been the one thing I got right.

Not so much.

At the time of writing that book, I was neck deep in learning how to grapple with the principles of structure. I hadn’t yet even begun to understand how to consciously actuate theme by purposefully creating cohesion between plot and theme at every important structural moment.

The result was a well-intentioned story that, although it may have had some great thematic moments and ideas, didn’t actually execute its theme on every page. Actually, it was kinda hard to tell what the story was really about. Was it about forgiveness? Was it about PTSD and fear? Was it about trust in relationships? Was it about striving against the confines of social class? Was it about love? Was it about friendship? Was it about justice versus mercy?

If I’d possessed a better understanding of how to create a cohesive thematic Truth against which to measure every aspect of my characters’ struggles, I could very well have written a story that unified all these ideas by pointing them toward the same end goal. Instead, I ended up with a story full of half-baked notions that seemed to be pointing in a dozen directions at once.

The Fix: Were I writing this story again today, I would start by forming my thematic idea about forgiveness into a definitive Lie/Truth for all three of my main characters. With so many prominent characters, I would have had the opportunity to explore multiple facets of my topic, but in a way that tied all their journeys into the tapestry of a larger picture.

This, in turn, would have given me a guideline against which to choose which subplots supported this thematic idea—and its ultimate realization in the Climactic Moment—and which distracted from the unified premise I was trying to create.

3. Is the Backstory Pertinent?

The Problem: Something I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up as a novelist is that when a writer doesn’t fully understand her story (or story in general), backstory has a way of trying to take over.

In the days before I understood how the structure of plot, character, and theme worked, I often spent an unwonted amount of time amassing huge backstories designed to help me try to understand what the main story—and the characters’ motivations within it—was really about.

Nothing inherently wrong with huge backstories. Indeed, they’re the deep wells from which complex novels draw their subtext. But backstory, like the main story, must always be focused and pertinent.

As I said before, I originally intended The Deepest Breath to present dual timelines that alternated between the characters’ past and present. Looking back, I realize this idea was mostly a crutch designed to try to help me flesh out character motivations I didn’t yet fully understand. The reason I eventually rejected this approach and axed the novel-length backstory section I’d already written, was that the backstory was a crazy mess of boring trench scenes and unrealistic spy thriller stuff that had very little to do with the main story.

The Fix: Backstory is always important. Even when it is not shared outright with readers, it will always influence the author’s understanding of the characters and their story. Therefore, it must be pertinent. It can’t be a fun, rambling romp through ancillary adventures. It must be the staging ground for the character’s journey through the main story.

From a structural vantage point, the backstory’s single most important job is that of setting up the character’s motivation for investing in the Lie/Truth that will be explored in the main part of the story.

did understand this when I wrote Deepest. In fact, the whole point of the backstory was to create the Ghosts that would drive my characters in the main part of their story ten years later. Unfortunately, I got distracted and created a whole rambling mess of a backstory that detracted from the main story’s focus far more than it contributed. Had I this book to do over again, I would vastly simplify the backstory, focusing it less on all the stuff I’d researched about World War I, and more on the needs of the main story’s plot and theme.

4. Are You Clinging to “Ugly Darlings”?

The Problem: We write stories because at some point we fell in love with some beautiful kernel of inspiration. It’s only natural we wouldn’t want to relinquish that special kernel. And yet… sometimes as a story evolves, it evolves past its early inspirations.

Deepest got its start as a dream—the only story I’ve ever written based on a dream. I woke up one morning with a vivid memory of a man dressed in early 20th-century clothes, escaping with his injured wife on a passenger liner.

I loved that scene. I still love it. It’s incredibly evocative to me on both a sensory and an emotional level.

But I tried way too hard to keep that scene, exactly as I’d dreamed it, in the story.

The Fix: Perhaps the hardest part of being a writer is realizing that just because an idea is wonderful doesn’t mean it deserves to be written. The mark of all great stories is their cohesion and focus. Any element—no matter how organically beautiful–that detracts from the larger picture is an element that must be eliminated.

This principle gets harder and harder to enforce the more time and effort we spend on an idea. Axing an imagined idea is one thing; axing an idea you’ve spent perhaps years writing and rewriting and tweaking and fixing is a thousand times more difficult—not least because familiarity and propinquity cause us to lose perspective.

When I wrote this book, I had a hard time cutting elements that, at the time, felt like the whole point. Today, from a more distant perspective, I could dispassionately identify, chop, and rearrange for the story’s greater benefit.

5. Do You Truly Understand the Story You’re Trying to Tell?

The Problem: Stories are strange beasts. Sometimes the story we think we’re telling isn’t the story at all. Other times, we may understand what we’re trying to do, but get hung up on habitual techniques and approaches that don’t serve the art as well as they might.

Five years later, I recognize The Deepest Breath is an entirely different type of story from anything else I’ve ever written. It’s more character-focused, less plot-driven. It’s darker. It’s quieter. It’s more realistic, more literary.

I knew all of that, on some level, when I wrote it. And yet—I still tried to shoehorn it into my own familiar tropes of the heroic action-adventure genre. The story’s Climax, in particular, suffers from my mistaken attempt to take a hitherto subdued character story and funnel it into a shoot-’em-up finale.

The Fix: It often takes time and experience to recognize, but an author’s two greatest commandments are:

1. Know Your Story.

2. Trust Your Story.

Looking back, I didn’t trust my story—or myself—enough to let it be what it wanted to be. I feared its quietness, feeling it was too slow or too boring. However, in re-reading it, I was surprised to realize how strong and compelling the tension is throughout the book. Had I just trusted that in the beginning, I might have written a much better Third Act.

Again, this principle returns to the idea of cohesion. The point of any piece of art is the creation of an effect. We wish to have an effect on our readers, to leave them with a specific feeling or thought. To do this, we must consciously craft that effect at every stage of the story—bringing plot, character, theme, tone, setting, and pacing together into a unified whole, with each piece trusting the other to support it.

***

I know what you’re thinking. Now that I think I’m all old and wise and have figured out all of my book’s problems, I should go back and rewrite it, right?

Maybe.

Honestly, I’m just happy to have returned to what has been a somewhat painful memory and discover that, after all, I had not betrayed or been betrayed by this dear friend from whom I had parted on less than genial terms.

The Deepest Breath is not, by far, the worst thing I’ve ever written. But perhaps for that very reason, I do think of it as my greatest mistake. I doubt I will ever return to fix it; there are just too many new stories to write. Happily, however, every one of those new stories will benefit from the many, many mistakes I made when writing that particular novel.

So maybe it wasn’t a mistake after all.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you have any “lost stories”? What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from them? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Katie,

    Having followed you over the years since your early days on YouTube, I am more than a little impressed with how you have matured as a teacher over the span of time you’ve been online. Today’s post is characteristic of that maturity as you demonstrate an experienced and analytic grasp of the lessons you’ve accumulated over the years. All that hard work is paying off.

    Even more, I believe your experience (and willingness to discuss it) will benefit a generation of writers who follow you. Well done and I wish you all the best in the future. May it be long and prolific.

    rick

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks, Rick! It’s been a wild eleven years since I started all this! I know I’m the one who has learned the most from it.

  2. It always hurts to have to put aside a story, but this post shows that maybe some good can come out of it.

    Who Is Your Protagonist? is something I often try to apply to books I read. Have you read The Lord of the Rings, and if so, is Frodo the protagonist? I tend to have trouble figuring this out in more omniscient stories but it’s seemed to me that when it comes down to it, Frodo is the one the plot depends upon most.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve yet to read the trilogy, unfortunately, so am not certain, although everything I’ve seen about the story, points to Frodo as the underlying protagonist.

      • Rebecca L. says:

        Yes, having read the books, I’d say Frodo is the protagonist of The Lord of the Rings. Other characters get very important roles and viewpoints, but he’s still the main character of the story.

  3. #1 what about Game of Thrones? (at least the series, because i haven’t read the books) there are lots of important characters, and i really don’t see George R.R. Martin setting it into one, fixed protagonist. they all mobilize the stories, one way or another

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I haven’t read/seen that, but it does seem like Jon Snow/Daenerys are the throughline characters. I suppose it depends what happens in the Climactic Moment with whoever ends up on the throne. 😉

    • I’ve read the books(as far as he’s condescended to get with them) but not seen the series. At the beginning, it seems one character is the protagonist, then he/she gets killed or lost and another takes over. So far, Jon Snow and Daenerys seem to be the ones most likely. It is confusing from that point of view. Does this suggest that, with clever writing we can make a successful story and keep our readers guessing who it’s about? It takes a clever and brilliant writer to do that, of course.

  4. Elle Middaugh says:

    I like this article! and I have a question that (I hope) goes along with it lol
    If your first series is not up to par with your current writing skill, SHOULD you go back and re-write it? or something along those lines? Is it better to fix it (for the sake of future readers) or leave it as a lesson learned, and move on, spending your precious time on bigger and better things? I’ve gotten a LOT of different answers, and I’d love to have your professional opinion on the matter! Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If it’s already published, I personally would let bygones be bygones. I’d rather write new stuff than spend all my time constantly polishing the old–because that’s a neverending road.

  5. Good advice. Number four was the best for me. Thank you.

    Why don’t you publish the novel under a pen name, if you think it will hurt your image? If there is something in the novel you like, there is something somebody else will like.

    I have a photography hobby. I struggle with technique. I’m not very disciplined. I do occasionally get out the lights, remote triggers, tripod, etc.

    I’ve learned subject matter trumps technique. People prefer “bad” photos (technically imperfect) to good ones, if the subject matter of the “bad” photo is interesting.

    Nobody wants to see a technically perfect photo of my cat, except me. Maybe I could sell it for $25, to use in a magazine ad or something. But what if I had a photo of a mountain lion menacing a child in a Chicago backyard? It might be blurry, with swingsets and tree branches and all kinds of other distractions. People want to see it. I can sell it to the newspaper.

    As a writer, I have mixed feelings about technical analysis. I never cared about technique as a reader. I realize now that writers cared about technique, which was good. But it’s possible to go overboard, too. What matters at heart is a good story, an interesting idea, even if flawed.

    Imagine listening to a record with a sound engineer. They ruin everything. “Did you hear that? Incredible! They had such and such a setup of microphones around the drum kit in that four-second solo, and the walls were covered with quilts to minimize feedback. I can tell by listening. Expert technique.” I mean, OK, but that’s not what most people look for in songs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The amount of effort and time necessary to publish a book isn’t something I want to put into this particular book. I’d rather focus that effort on the books I am proud of.

      • Not even as a matter of record? In a few hundred years (or next week) somebody will be interested in your thoughts, and who you are or were. On a non-technical level, writing is just information. I find it interesting to browse old newspapers and find out what people thought a hundred years ago. They were really florid writers a lot of the time. We’d criticize their wordiness today. I don’t care.

        You matter as a person first and foremost, before taking into account your technical writing skills. The description of your novel sounds interesting. I think readers are sophisticated enough to overlook flaws and judge what you tried to say and what you meant. But it’s your book! Best

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Maybe someday. You never know. I *have* thought about making it available for free to any of my readers who are interested. But we’ll just have to see how motivated I get in the future.

    • Strangely, I was only thinking, today, that what the reading public wants is a good story. They aren’t too bothered with passive voice, removing adverbs, show don’t tell etc. just look at the top selling books on Amazon. Many are well-written, of course, but I’ve read many poorly written that do well.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Story trumps all. Although, of course, it’s best when everything about a book is done well.

  6. “I doubt I will never return to fix it; there are just too many new stories to write.”

    A little typo, “never” for “ever,” hints that you might get back to it after all.

  7. Eric Troyer says:

    Good post, Katie. I think “The Deepest Breath” is a big part of YOUR backstory!

  8. Katie, number five resonated with me all the way down to my toes. If I could learn to trust myself and realize I have a story to tell (good or bad, that’s what rewrites are for), I could possibly finish it. It’s taken you five years to pull your finished manuscript out and analyze it, but it’s taken me five years to admit that maybe this story isn’t enough and I should just scrap it. Your post certainly has opened my eyes to the fact that maybe I should put my “little darling” to sleep forever.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Forever is a long time. 🙂 Maybe you’ll look back on it in five years and come to peace with it as well.

  9. I would LOVE to read the Deepest Breath! It sounds AMAZING! 🙂 I’ve been intrigued by it since you started talking about it way back when. Maybe it’s not a “mistake.” Maybe it needed more percolating. Maybe its time is yet to come. Maybe it could turn out to be your greatest work yet! I’m so excited you have re-classified it from “lost” and “discarded” to “maybe.” There’s hope! And congrats!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Wow, you remember it? :p Who knows. It’s a novel that has an important place in my heart. At this point, it’s more a matter of summoning the energy and motivation to tackle major rewrites.

      • I should go back and rewrite it, right?

        Yes!! Give it life; let it breath… Dance with it under the moon light, caress it in the darkness. On those off days, dink some wine and take a moment to explore an old friend – Find its heart & begin again.

  10. I always appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion, and wisdom that go into your posts, and this one is no different! This topic hit spot-on for me, as I’ve recently looked back at my one finished (epic-length) story, and tried to identify what could be changed to make it worthy of being published. The list was extensive, and the time and effort it would take to re-work it just not something I’m willing to invest, at the expense of derailing my current project. I will learn from my mistakes, and commit to being a stronger writer for them. Thank you for sharing your lessons with us.

    “The point of any piece of art is the creation of an effect.” – YES.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m a huge proponent of “finishing” stories, of not giving up on them. But in reality, there does come a moment when it just makes more sense to cut some projects loose in favor of new ones. But nothing is ever wasted. Even if a story will never be read by anyone else, it will still provide the fertilizer to enrich the soil of later works.

  11. I have enough problem already with paper clutter, and sometimes with too many computer files/names that I can’t find my WIP. Does one *really* have to keep drafts and old projects? If so, WHY? and what can I do to archive things effectively without messing up the WIP?

  12. That was the most amazing post. Thank you so much for everything you put into it.

  13. Thank you for the insight into your failed book. A pity you decided not to revisit it. It sounds fascinating.

  14. Tom Youngjohn says:

    She’s such a honey.

  15. Thanks for sharing that story. Of your lost story. Okay, now Im going to risk embarrassment by telling you that I’ve been on and off over the years resurrecting and revising and updating a novel that I started,… ahem… 25 years ago! And I still think it’s going to work. Am I crazy? This novel is like an old friend. And in the end, if all is in vain, I’ve convinced myself that if only my son takes the time to read this story, it will have been worth it. Sometimes I think that this is the only way for me to produce a work of art — to work at it that long. I guess we’ll see.

  16. Thanks for another really helpful (and timely for me) post. I’ve been struggling with a sci-fi book for a long time and just last week came to the conclusion that I had not really identified the protagonist. I also had not narrowed the theme down sufficiently to create a story which the reader could follow to a satisfactory ending.
    Thanks!

  17. My first completed novel is permanently hidden away despite several years of rewrites and revisions. Its fatal flaw is an unsympathetic protagonist. She’s wimpy and feels defeated by the obstacles she encounters throughout the story. Even when she overcomes at the end, the journey has been too depressing!

    It’s a problem I’ve recognized in subsequent writing, too. Even as my protagonists have become stronger, I’m not confident they’re truly likeable…or likeable enough for readers to want to follow them through the story. Always something to challenge me; always something to learn. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Learning to write likable characters can surprisingly be one of the hardest things to do in the beginning.

  18. USVALDO DELEON says:

    Write it as a script! I’m thinking Ryan Gosling, Joe Gordon Levitt and Anne Hathaway.

    But leaving that aside, I liked the piece, particularly understanding the story. It can take me a long time to wrangle the story into place, but once I understand the story, everything falls into place.

  19. Katie, Thanks for sharing all your advice and all that you do! Just wanted to drop in and tell you thank you!

  20. ingmarhek says:

    I wrote a novel and abandoned it. I am sure I made worse mistakes than you writing it. I keep saying I will come back to it. On the meantime, there are other stories begging to be written. Perhaps we need to make a writing mess before we can get good.

  21. What a great post, Katie. Thank you very much.

    Oh gosh! This seriously describes my work in progress – a double time-lined (1915 and 1946) espionage novel. I do have a definite protagonist, driven by idealisation of her ruthless father, a rogue spy. Her disillusion devolves from the espionage work she is undertaking, but the mission itself? She is not that interested, only wants to succeed to survive/thrive as a woman passing as a man and to win the respect of the father.

    I have two finished novels unpublished and which will never be – novels I learnt a lot from. Their structures would be fixable. But this one? I have worked on it for a very long time and really, really want to finish and publish it.

    I guess I need to find some way of disentangling the issues, of zooming out and isolating the elements. I need to forensically analyse and ruthlessly discard.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Dual timelines are tough no matter how you slice them. Actually *single* timelines are tough. Doubling them just doubles the trouble. :p

  22. Excellent lesson. Thanks for sharing.
    I have a couple stories like that and feel it would be really difficult for me to go back and rewrite them. Moving on sounds good.

  23. K.M.,

    This is my first time writing but I have read many of your articles and would like to ask a two-part question about minor characters.

    Two things in particular that you’ve mentioned about minor characters is that they should

    1. Reflect the protagonist’s various fates

    2. Explore themes that are variations of the main theme.

    My two-part question therefore is, Should my minor characters’ arcs be accomplishing both of these things? If so, how?

    Also, it’s useful how the first point about defining the protagonist among main characters, gives focus no matter how complex the story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Optimally, yes, the minor characters’ arcs will fulfill both of the aspects you’ve mentioned. “How” really depends on the themes you’re exploring and how your plot interacts with it.

  24. First novel blues — Focus has been my bane. I wrote half the novel and didn’t know what the story was. I threw most of it out and rewrote. I wrote seventy-five percent of the story and realized that I was chasing the story down rabbit holes of no return. I threw most of it out and rewrote. I’d finished the first draft when I realized that I’d misunderstood some of the critical character motivations and was focusing on side issues. I threw big chunks out and rewrote. I was almost at the climax when I realized was still writing about things extreneous to the story. I threw huge chunks out and rewrote. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I’m now at v12.6 and the goal line is in sight, To get my 100k words, I will have written 400k+. The next one will have the structure baked in the initial design instead of being added in a redesign.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Being a writer is a case study in how evolving perspectives are constantly changing everything we think we know.

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