Reader Question: Have you ever started a novel and tossed it? How far along were you?

Yes, to the first question.  Several full manuscripts in answer to the second.

One manuscript comes to mind, one I wrote in the early days of my writing career.  I had been a juror on a rape case.  The evidence was all there, but one person couldn’t declare the defendant guilty because he looked like “such a nice young man”.  He walked.  I (along with ten others) was angry, frustrated and depressed.  What did I do?  I unleashed my emotions by creating four victims betrayed by the judicial system who find a way to stop a serial rapist. An edge-of-your-seat thriller – the only one I’ve ever tackled.  When it was done, I knew it would sell.  It might even make a movie! The agent of the time thought it would. Another (one I signed with and worked with for the next 25 years) asked me some pointed questions.  Is this the kind of story you want to offer readers?  Does it carry the message you want to be known for?  I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but we both knew that manuscript could set me on a course.  The story would sell, but messages do matter.  I dumped the manuscript. 

Since then, I have tossed several manuscripts and started over.  One was a novella about Tamar.  I was struggling with her story, reading commentaries, most of which saw her as an immoral woman.  I started the story in a “he said, she said” format and finished an entire first draft before I realized I had missed the real story within the story.  Four months of work went into the shredder and I started over.

Writing biblical fiction carries a heavy responsibility.  I want to be as close to biblical truth as I can get, while still letting readers know this rendition of a real person’s story is one writer’s view.  My hope is readers won’t stop with what I’ve written; but will dig into Scripture and find the jewels God has waiting there for them.

A longer manuscript (1200 pages! Yikes!), a very personal family story, ended up going through the shredder because the characters based on my grandmother and mother weren’t right. I love these two women, but I hadn’t managed to show them in their true light. It was hard to dump that manuscript because a year’s work went into it. But sometimes you can’t edit enough to fix a story. It was hard, but all that work wasn’t wasted: I understood more about the motivations behind certain behavior and the different ways generations see issues. 

I have a file box full of materials right now that are a collection of research for a story I may (or may not) write.  I have two characters whispering in my head, but they are not speaking loudly enough for me to understand the story.  So — I wait.  If they stop whispering and fall silent, I’ll empty the box into recycling.

As with many things in life, sometimes you just have to let go, take the lessons you learn and move on.