What do you do when the story goes off the rails like, as John Rogers put it, a burning train full of pantless clowns?
You bury the dead and walk away, preferably in slow motion while “Everyone” by Van Morrison plays on the soundtrack.
So, that’s basically what I’ve been doing these last few weeks, ignoring the blog and burying the dead story that was formerly The Man From Planet X. “But what happened?” says nice kind hypothetical you, “I thought everything was going well. You had a plot outline, a structure, your characters were humming along and everything seemed like it was moving towards Miller Time.”
Well, see that’s the thing. Sometimes, you can do everything right and one day, the story just has an aneurysm and falls down on the kitchen floor.
What happened was this: the plot stopped working I was running in circles, trying to figure out how to move the characters from one contrived set of circumstances to another in a way that would be entertaining, both for me and the reader. And it wasn’t working. The circumstances of the story were too contrived. I had a lot of cool stuff and fun characters but everything they said and did was flat, pointless and required an epic level of disbeleif to be suspended on very thin wires. It wasn’t fun or alive. Worse, it wasn’t my story.
At some point, the tale had turned into some wrote bit of sci-fi pablum. Just another Saturday matinee thriller where something weird and lifeless and hollow happened for no real reason other than the thought that hey, it be kinda cool if a time traveling astronaut were to get in a fist fight with Transhumanist fascists dressed like Lady Gaga. You see? That’s not me! That’s not the story I wanted to tell. So, for now at least, Major Tom will remain lost in space. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll bring him back down to Earth and see if I can’t find something worth his time. Until then, he’ll just have to remain a junkie, strung out on heavens high, reaching an all time low.
Luckily, this is where plan B comes in to play.
“What do you mean, plan B?!” says hypothetical you. “There was no mention of Plan B when we started this trip!”
That’s because there’s always a plan B. Its a given. If you want to write for fun and profit, you’d better have more than one story to tell, otherwise, it’ll be a real short trip.
Plan B in this case is another novel that I had been tinkering with. I already had all the character notes, a skeleton of the world built and enough of a plot to get the ball rolling in short order. Turns out — and I’d completely forgotten this — I’d already written the first five chapters even. reading over them again after nearly a year or so, I found they worked really well, so much so that I can’t for the life of me remember why i set this story aside. In the last week, I’ve already roughed out nearly three more chapters.
And here’s the best part: I already feel a lot like I’m home in this story. Like it’s already worn in and I just have to pull it out of the back of the closet and put it on my feet. There’s something to be learned here: that sometimes, the real way to succeed as a writer is to fail. Fail hard. Fail gloriously. Then pick up and take what you’ve learned and start again.