Saturday, January 21, 2012

The (Short) Life of An Abandoned Novel

The decision to abandon a novel is generally never as simple as filing away the manuscript and never looking at it again.  It's easy for authors to become attached to their words, no matter how flawed the sentences, or broken the plot, or undeveloped the characters.

I have written ten novels.  And I have abandoned more than that.

My Abandoned Novel begins with an idea.  It's so new and shiny and appealing.  It begs me to simply indulge it for a little while, to take a break from whatever else I'm working on and let it grow and develop, as novels do.

My Abandoned Novel has a history of not wanting to be plotted.  It appears like vapour, and is so fleeting that I begin to believe it might dissipate if I plot for it.  New ideas can be seductive like that -- they'll tempt me to abandon all planning and simply write.  They'll make me forget all the ideas that have begun the same way and died an abrupt death.  Because this idea will be different.  This is a beautiful idea, filled with endless possibilities.  This idea is so big, that as I develop its mental picture, it grows and expands and it must be written, must be written, must be written.

So, I write.  And write.  The Abandoned Novel is so exciting to compose, I feel that I will breeze through it, beginning to end.  The scenes simply exist, fully formed in my mind, and I have to keep typing.  Deep down, I know how this ends.  If I leave this idea for even a moment, I'll lose it.

I have trained myself to plot my novels, because if I don't, this is what happens: eventually, I have to stop typing.  When I try to revisit the manuscript, that frenzy to write write write doesn't exist anymore.  It's been sated.  The idea has been indulged.  No matter how hard I try to get it back, I can't write any further.  I hit the wall of I don't know what's going to happen or how to get past this scene.

The Abandoned Novel then becomes properly abandoned.  I began it too soon.  I let the idea take over rather than properly letting it develop into something I could plan and add to.  I hit a wall because the scenes beyond that simply didn't exist for me.

If I attempt to plot the rest and can't recapture that excitement, I let the idea go.  It's important to me never to force a story, or write because it feels like wasted time if I don't.  I never consider the Abandoned Novel to be a waste.

Because, sometimes, that small spark of an idea can be revisited later and become the novel it had the potential to be.


Elizabeth May is an occasional book cover photographer, a fantasy novelist, a lazy PhD student, and an accomplished coffee drinker. She resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she can frequently be spotted skulking about dark wynds with a camera in hand.  She spends far too much time on Twitter and her blog.

Her début novel THE FALCONER will be released in 2013 by Gollancz (UK/Commonwealth) and Chronicle Children's Books (US/Canada).


  1. Nice post, Elizabeth, and very familiar. I can't say how many abandoned novel ideas I have out there. And at the time I thought each one was THE one.

  2. "I let the idea take over rather than properly letting it develop into something I could plan and add to." It's so easy to do that, isn't it? Ideas are seductive like that, as you point out. Your post reminds me that we have to take those paths -- and abandon them sometimes -- to find out what we really want to write. Thanks for sharing this post!