The Motley News

When to Kill Your Novel

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While most people are trying to quit smoking, I’m quitting a novel. . . 

When I started writing my novel, The Bangkok Assignment, 3 years ago, I started out with the verve and enthusiasm that reminded me of my youth. In high school, I skipped homework in favor of writing full-length manuscripts that were dark and romantic and really corny. Nothing much ever came from those books because they were seriously derivative of the terrible popular culture of that time.

Fast forward to 32.

It’s the new year and I’m sitting on a book that I can’t bear to read. Yes, there are some tolerable parts to it, but the verve and enthusiasm is long gone. It disappeared around year 2 of writing. Yesterday, I had to sit and face the facts. That involved list-making in a yellow legal pad. At the top, I wrote:

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR BOOK?

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The reasons were really easy to pinpoint once I admitted I had a problem. First, I don’t really like my two main characters. They’re flat and don’t remind me of people I’d like to get to know (their original purpose). I started to notice that, much too late in the game, and tried to pile on interesting attributes. As I overcompensate in fleshing out personalities, I saw other flaws. I had auxiliary characters that served as props for scenery. That’s no good either. SIGH!

Second, I had too many important issues thrown into the plot. It muddled the setting and didn’t give me characters a clear purpose. I had sex trafficking in Thailand, potential for violent coups, the Asian Migration of ’13, and maybe a crazy Prime Minister? by page 200, I hadn’t expanded on any one of those issues. Everything was superficially addressed. Why couldn’t I have picked one goddamn thing and written extensively about it? Because I wanted, desperately, to prove my ethos as a writer who did her research on another countries politics and culture. The result? Many of those issues read like Wikipedia entries instead of being fully incorporated into the plot.

This brings me to my third issue. The tone was all off. I was aiming for a light-hearted adventurous story with romance and redemption. Ambitious? Sure, but I managed to keep the plot a sexy comedy of errors until it butted against sex trafficking and slavery. Then shit got real. My tone had been light and fun until I needed to get serious about the horrors of being a refugee. I couldn’t make the appropriate transitions and it was jarring as fuck.

These were the problems presented in cold light of day. These were fundamental flaws that made continuing the writing process nearly impossible. Because I was trying to fix the foundation with minor spackle jobs, I only ended up with a shaky mess that was bound to collapse.

After 200 pages, I have to kill The Bangkok Assignment. I feel the anguish, but also the immense relief. This book as been an albatross around my neck for a long time because I’ve ignored the signs of a bad manuscript for a long time. What’s listed above is just the start. I’ve been writing like the seventeen-year-old Charish for a while. Drawing on what’s fun and easy. I’ve been mimicking the pop-culture junk food that I enjoy consuming, but I forgot that I’ve grown significantly since that stage in my life.

I read entirely different things now. Like, actual literature: Zadie Smith, James Baldwin, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve read Moby Dick TWICE (when I was 17, I vowed that I’d never read it)! I watch significantly better films. I read more news and I understand more global events and how they connect to historical events. I’m not trying to backdoor brag, but you get the idea: I fuckin’ grew up. Sadly, my writing did not. I look at these 200 or so pages of The Bangkok Assignment and ask myself: “Would you really buy this from a bookstore?” Yes, because the premise was still legit. But I would be sorely disappointed in my purchase. Because I expect so much from those I deem “professional writers.” Which means, I should probably expect the same from myself.

The novel is dead. It’s a new year with new starts and all that. I cannot stand the thought of holding on to something because I worked on it for 200 pages. If it’s a mediocre 200 pages, then what’s the point? If I revive the novel, I now understand that I’d have to start over and dismiss most of what I’ve written. Like I said, the premise is dope; the writing is not. I certainly won’t delete the file from my hard-drive, I’m not insane. IT WAS 200 PAGES!

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Author: Charish Halliburton

Writer and Editor for The Motley News

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