beginning writing, editing, Failure, hemlock notations, how to edit, how to write, Samuel Eden, the writing process, writing
Oh yes! We are still on this topic. I could mine this topic for the lifespan of this blog and probably never run out of things to say about it. I probably will too, but this is the last one in the series for a while. I just figured we’re on a roll here.
So today I want to talk to you about my failed novel.
Oh no, not you! You don’t have a failed novel. I don’t believe it! You’re awesome!
Stop. You’re embarrassing me. I’m blushing.
Ahem! Yes, it’s true. I have a failed novel. Most writers will have a failed story, possibly more than one during the course of their careers. I’d like to talk to you about my first failed novel, because I learned a few interesting things during the whole process of writing it.
First, I’d like to introduce you to my novel: Endgame. Those super fans of mine might recall me mentioning this book a few years ago. I’m sure I posted about it on here; so if go back into the archives you’ll find the post about it coming soon (I’m a bad blogger because this is the first time I’m ever mentioning it’s not).
For those of you who don’t know it, let me give a synopsis of the novel. Endgame was supposed to be my third novel set in the Superior Universe (for those of you drawing a blank on that: go right not to the works page and read the synopsis for Superiority Complex and The Man with the Invincible Gun. Go ahead. The rest of us will wait. All caught up? Good.). So Endgame was about a superpowered game show like Survivor. The main character, one of the main characters, was a guy who started out as a scientist who studied superpowers as a possible next step in evolution for humans. He invented a laser that gave people temporary superpowers so he could study the physiological and genetic changes. When his funding got cut, a friend of his who worked in entertainment thought it would be a good idea to have a TV show about giving people superpowers. That turned into a show like Jeopardy only if you lost the question round you had to fight your way to the next question round with crappy superpowers. This became a hit and was on the air for a couple decades. Then a new company came in and fired the main character. He then sunk his money into building a more powerful laser that could grant people permanent superpowers and took his Survivor-like show to the TV company. Basically they give normal people superpowers, put them on a deserted island, and have them compete in superpowered challenges to gain points until one comes out the winner. The prize being they get to keep their powers. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots. The book deals with the people coming to grips with controlling said powers and what it truly means to be superhuman. There’s also a thing where one of the contestants goes crazy and kidnaps another contestant to torture (and eventually kill, but the other contestants band together to save her). Then there’s the religious group that thinks the show is an abomination, hacks the feed, and sends armored zealots to kill the contestants. Then there’s the gang that kidnaps the creator of the show/laser and forces him to build them a superpower bestowing laser, which doesn’t work because the guy isn’t crazy, but really the only way he can escape is by giving himself superpowers. Then the show airs and does so well that the company renews it for a second season.
Whew! Still with me?
Okay, so some of you may be saying: Wow! How could that be a failure? That sounds awesome!
I want to assure everyone that the novel was, indeed, epic. I mean this in every way, even the sarcastic sense.
All told the novel (after a couple rounds of editing) came out to be four hundred and twenty-five pages. Yes, I finished it. And I will tell you, it was not a hot mess of a novel (which is bad-good phrase which implies bad execution but good potential in the concepts or vice versa). What the novel was/is was/is a nuclear meltdown.
Oh, don’t worry. I’ll tell you why.
First off, it’s over four hundred pages long. It’s not a book of short stories that compiled gets to four hundred pages; it’s a novel whose themes (humanity, being superhuman vs. superheroic, dealing with that level of power, addiction in this case the feeling of being powerful) never let up. For four hundred pages. While there is action-we’ll get to that in a moment-there’s a lot of discussion about the ethics of superpowers, and reality TV, and what they could be doing with the power instead of beating each other up on a deserted island. I really wanted to talk about those issues. At some point in the writing, the novel became my dissertation to all those writers who write “superhero” stories that are from a normal human’s perspective living in a world with superpowers and the implications of that. I’m sorry but those stories are supremely boring to me. If you’re going to the trouble of writing in world with people with superpowers why would you write about a normal human? We know how they feel: weak, irrelevant, impotent. Not to be too conceited, but I think my version (giving said normal humans powers to deal with) is much better. So there’s a lot of that type of philosophical talk in the novel. I think it comes off well, but if the contestants weren’t beating each other up over the challenges that’s really all they were doing. It’s more than a bit much for four hundred pages.
Now let’s get to that action I mention earlier. Here’s where my wife (my first, sometimes only, editor) came close to giving me a compliment about Endgame. She described the action as being almost hyper-realistic. This too was by design. I did my best to make the action of the book less action-y and more like violence. What’s the difference you may ask? A Summer blockbuster starring Will Smith, Bruce Willis, or Jeremy Renner-more likely than not-is an action movie. A Lifetime movie of the week about an abusive relationship depicts violence. So even though people were getting hit with fireballs conjured out of thin air, a laser eyes, or shadow knives, I describe it happening in such a way that took all the comic-y awesome stuff out of it and left the festering, gruesome aftermath of the wound in. I did this to show the absolute destructive power of superpowers. I wanted the reader to dread the next challenge for the contestants because they got so hurt during them. I succeeded, but I have to be honest with you even I have to admit after doing the third read through of the novel it was getting to be a bit much for me.
Then there’s the superpowers. I wanted to show that there is more to having superpowers than just being powerful. I wanted to show that just because you have powers doesn’t mean you’re automatically great and happy. Don’t get me wrong every one of the characters started off feeling great, but by the end of the book that was a different story. Let me give you an example from the book. I gave one of the contestants super speed. One of the coolest powers in my opinion. Except the power was killing her. She had to consume massive amounts of calories to keep her body functioning. Which was near impossible on an island with limited food sources. She scavenged as much she could of the fruit and nuts, and the network did weekly supply drops, but it was enough to keep her going. Throughout the book she wastes away, even going so far as to stop using her speed to keep herself going a little longer. She ends the book in a coma as her body shuts down completely. That’s one of the extreme cases, but all the contestants had to deal with unforeseen side effects of having their powers. Mission accomplished, I made having superpowers a depressing responsibility.
Here’s the last thing I did with the book that I’m going to bring up. One of the things I hate about some books and movies is missing out on the action. The biggest perpetrator of this, for me, is the last book of Harry Potter. Where-SPOILERS-at the end several of our favorite characters are dead, and we don’t get to see how or why. You just read along, you turn the page and-BAM-eight people are dead. Another book series to do this is The Hunger Games (don’t get me wrong I love The Hunger Games), but we miss so much of the war and the world it’s set in because it’s just from Catness’s point-of-view. So what I did was have the novel with fifteen characters have fifteen viewpoints. That’s right. 15 VEIWPOINTS! Every contestant got at least one scene from their point-of-view. I made a deal with myself that I would go backwards, all the scenes would move forwards, but that means the reader got at least two perspectives for each scene. I think during one action scene I change viewpoints five times. It actually made a really good patchwork of an entire scene. I liked it.
There still may be some of you out there thinking: Yeah! That sounds great! Where’s this novel?
It’s sitting in my file box, dead. All the things I described above, while not bad in and of themselves, just don’t work as a good novel when I put them all together. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s the truth. You could read it, but I doubt you would enjoy it. Many would walk away very confused. And some (the biggest sin of all) would think they don’t like superhero literature, or reading in general. It just does not work as a novel. It doesn’t make a good story.
This isn’t what makes it a failed novel. Remember, a “failed novel” is one that you’ve stopped working on. As it is now Endgame is just a bad novel. Anyone can fix a bad novel if they have the will and the drive to keep working on it. I’m not working on Endgame, and I doubt I ever will.
Some of you might be asking yourself: why?
That’s a very good question. The answer: I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to fix it because (and here’s the rub) it’s not broken. Oh you heard me. It’s not broken. There’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, it’s all wrong, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I accomplished everything I wanted to with it. I, as a writer, succeeded. So because I succeeded I can’t begin to fathom how to fix the novel. It isn’t broken; it just isn’t good. How’s that for irony?
That’s the weird thing I wanted to share with you about the experience all the way at the beginning of this post. Even though I succeeded I came to recognize that what I succeeded at wasn’t very good. I fought with my wife several times about the novel. I fiddled with scene placement. I sent it out to agents and got rejected (nothing new there, really). After several months not looking at it I had to clear my mind, get as objective as possible, and re-re-re-read the manuscript. As an experienced writer, as someone who knows my own writing, I had to admit that the novel didn’t work.
I must stress that you have to be your own worst critic. After all, no one knows your work like you do. You have to have the maturity and the awareness to look at your work and acknowledge when it’s bad. I was convinced for months that I had succeeded with Endgame. And I had, but I was confusing succeeding in what I set out to do with making something good. I hadn’t, and it took a while to realize it wasn’t working.
Now that being said I like the concept I had and some of the themes in the story. So I’ll be putting them in other stories, but Endgame is dead. I hope this helps you through whatever you’re doing.
Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.