January 25, 2015

When "The End" is no longer the end.

(c) Iravgustin/Shutterstock
In 2013, I finished my book, a fantasy titled The Name and the Key. The driving force behind its completion was the timeframe established by my graduate school program. Basically, if I didn't finish the book, I didn't get my degree.

That pressure helped me do something I never did before, and that was write something longer than 90 pages (my average for my theatrical scripts). The Name and the Key blossomed into about 386 typed pages in Word.

After I submitted my manuscript to my mentors and it was approved for my degree, I continued working on it. I rewrote the novel's ending one more time because it didn't sit right with me.

Then I printed a private, personal set of copies through Lulu so I could see what it would look like as a paperback, and to have versions that my family members could finally read (a paperback is so much easier to manage than a 386-page stack of papers)!

Seeing the manuscript as a 6x9 inch trade paperback brought an even larger feeling of accomplishment than finishing the MS, because once you see a book in print, it feels like the project is done.

I knew this to be otherwise. I'm blessed with a family of avid readers who have a keen sense for literary criticism and a set of hawk-eyes for finding typos. I knew I had to fix some sections of the book, but even after all of their criticism, the amount of rewriting I needed to do felt manageable.

After receiving rejections from agents, I knew the amount of rewriting I needed to do increased, but again, I wasn't worried--the revisions seemed reasonable. But I was a bit burnt out on The Name and the Key, and I was so enamored with my character Andresh Camomescro, that I wanted to jump right into his book, The Step and the Walk. After failing two Nanowrimos with this MS, and struggling to balance my work situation (teaching) with my other work situation (writing), I couldn't figure out why I was having trouble getting through this second book.

I realized that writing a trilogy was very difficult, because things like structure and continuity were kicking my butt. When I wanted to move ahead with Step, some sort of plot question would appear that would require me to think of Name, and then I'd question how it all would come together for The Eye and the Storm, the third book that didn't even have a shadow of a plot yet.

It was only recently that I realized that Name's ending, for what feels like the hundredth time, just isn't going to work. The ending that appeared in the personal paperback version was something I was quite happy with, and I could go into The Eye and the Storm with relative ease based on its setup.

But the plot for Step started to mess with this happy ending--an actual happy ending, and an ending I was happy with. I started filling in the blanks with Andresh's backstory, which makes up the entire plot of Step, and started running into snags. I realized that The Big Bad that drives Andresh to making choices in Step had to continue into Name and then wrap with Eye...and what I had in Name just wasn't bad enough. And the ending gave no indication that there was anything to be worried about for the third book.

Now that I've decided what The Big Bad actually is, I have to undo the ending to Name, from its climactic point all the way to the last page. It's a game-changing, revolutionary plot choice, and it definitely feels like I'm back to square one with much of The Name and the Key again. A book that I wanted to be finished (plotwise) is now unfinished.

I'm worried that when I dive back into Name's MS that I will write this new material, then find more "issues" with the story, then get stuck in a perpetual cycle of edits and rewriting that pulls me further and further away from my goal--getting an agent and getting the book published.

Readers, how do you feel when you have to go back into an old manuscript? When do you determine a manuscript is truly finished?