Completely rethinking a story!

Forums Fiction Plotting Completely rethinking a story!

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    Taylor Clogston

    Last autumn, I decided to start a serialized fantasy story based around Dungeons and Dragonsy stuff. I quickly realized I wasn’t capable of keeping up with a serial schedule, so after finishing the first 10K word episode I expanded it into a 30K word novella, got it edited, learned how to make a cover, and published it on Amazon. It’s done okay considering I have no idea what I’m doing and fail at marketing and have no newsletter–in a bit less than a year, 128 copies sold, 30K page reads on Kindle Unlimited, 191 giveaways, 3.8 average on Goodreads from 22 ratings.

    This past year I’ve spent far more time learning than actually writing, which I think is actually a good thing. I’m ashamed to say I learned that story structure and plotting are two completely different things only a month ago =P This growth made me realize many mistakes I made with book one, and getting a developmental editor has thoroughly cemented this.

    The problem I have now is my book really doesn’t work as the first part of the story I wanted to tell, and I really don’t want to drop a thing after I started it.

    My novella is about a young boy named Dan who is pulled from burning WWII London into another, magical world by a mysterious black-cloaked magician. The boy is raised in an orphanage where he loves his adopted family, until he sets off ten years later to become a magician like the man who saved him so he too can help others.

    To fund his education at the University at Ormuil, Dan joins the Treasure Hunting Club, a band of students who delve into interdimensional dungeons to retrieve the treasure inside.

    The climax of the novella comes as Dan realizes he’s gotten his friends into a deadly and inescapable situation and gives his own life to save them. He is shown mercy and saved, and the novella ends as he steels himself to face the friends from whom he has been keeping the secret he revealed to save them.

    I was planning from there to write a few more, longer books about the characters growing to become mature adults, struggle to redeem a world torn by war and corruption, and face an ancient enemy before doing the best they can to make the world a better place.

    The book I started with doesn’t promise that kind of stuff, I now know. It’s instead promising this will be a story about a magical school and adventurers who go into dungeons and do their growing at the University.

    I’ve not read any of the Harry Potter books, so there are a hundred expectations people will have I don’t know. I haven’t read any gamer lit, so there are a thousand more expectations I don’t know. All that stuff doesn’t interest me much beyond its role in the first book, in any event.

    So I’m faced with a conundrum. I don’t mind dropping the rest of the books and doing them some other way at another time, but that means figuring out how much more I need to do in this current book to make it a minimum viable product extending from its current reader promises. On the other hand I could cut my losses and deny the sunk cost fallacy, but then I’m leaving something without finishing it, and that tells my future readers I might start something and not finish it.

    On the gripping hand, I know now that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. Maybe the wisest course would be a compromise of extending the novella into a complete story that needs no further explanation, and moving on to something else now that I know a little better.

    The looming truth to all this is I will always find myself in a place where I know better near the end of a project than when I began, and the prevailing advice in the self pubbing community is to create a large catalog, always improving, knowing you’ll make garbage and you just need to use that experience to create better stuff in the future.

    For the first time in my life I feel truly flabbergasted. What are your experiences with situations like this? How did you deal with them? Do you feel you made a wise choice?

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    Katherine Baker


    I hardly think I have enough experience to help you, but I would love to share some of my thoughts and see if they can be of any use.

    Out of curiosity, did you make any promises about future books in advertising? How specific were you about your future plans? That may help me think though advice. Also, did the last book end on a cliff-hanger/lack of resolution to the overall plot?

    I agree with you that it doesn’t seem right to leave your audience with false promises. And though I understand the advice about being okay with “garbage”, it just doesn’t seem to be settling with me right (of course, that could just be me).

    If I were in your shoes, I would ditch your other plans and try to finish up the story in one more book. I think under the circumstances (and again, this is just me), it might be better to start fresh with your plans for ending it so that 1) you can better fit at least some expectations, and 2) so you can get excited about the story again. Maybe have some family and friends who have read the story brainstorm with you on how it might end? I know it helps me when I’m stuck in a story to role-play the scenarios with a sibling and see what comes next (the characters can do a lot of heavy lifting).

    If this is all just totally unhelpful, feel free to ignore it. I have no idea what would be best to do in this situation either, and I’ll be praying God gives you wisdom on the best course of action (His wisdom far surpasses whatever little nuggets of thoughts I can share with you).

    God bless you.

    Always remember you're unique...
    ...Just like everyone else

    Daeus Lamb

    @taylorclogston Whew! That’s tough. My belief is that you shouldn’t publish something you don’t think is high quality, but if you’ve already done that, what then?

    I actually self-published a novel about two years back that I’m still struggling over. It was publishable I think, but I’ve also improved quite a lot since then and I don’t exactly want to be known by that first book. So should I leave it published and just never market it, or should I unpublish it? I don’t know.

    A little commiseration for you there.

    Anyway, writing is hard enough I don’t think you should write a whole series you don’t care for just to satisfy readers. On the one hand, don’t think it’s the end of the world is you start from scratch. If your following isn’t huge, you won’t be loosing that much and only a few people will have a bad opinion of you — the rest will have no idea you ever started a series and then hid its existence.

    But for your honor it would be best to give these readers some closure. I think the idea of writing one more book to close it off sounds good. Or you could try to work with the trajectory you established and try to turn it into a series that excites you just as much.

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    Taylor Clogston

    @kb-writer I didn’t really make other promises in advertising. Most of my adverts put an emphasis on a boy from another world setting off to fund his magical education, or that a boy from another world has a terrible secret but finds himself in the company of people with even darker pasts.

    Both of those are followed in what I had imagined for the later story, though the second is definitely more emphasized and on point. The end of the first book is basically no resolution to anything. The main character knows he’s given all his new friends a reason not to trust him and that he has caused potentially irreparable harm by convincing his friends to act on his plans. He moves forward determined to face them and ask their forgiveness. Then the big bad secret society we’ve seen hints about throughout the first book has a scene where they discuss how they’re about to become more active in the wake of the events of the first book.

    Like I said in the OP, this was intended to be a serial and not actually a book series. “Book one” wasn’t actually designed to have much of an ending point aside from being the equivalent to a season break in a TV show or something.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll never say no to prayer ;P Unfortunately I only have one friend who actually read it, and he was the person who helped me brainstorm it in the first place so he doesn’t have a fresh mind, which is kind of what I need.

    Yeah, tough for sure. The problem with the whole not-writing-something-I-don’t-like mindset is I’m trying to make this my job, so I need to get used to doing the parts I don’t like, most of which is probably going to be writing stuff people actually want to read =P

    I don’t have a large fanbase or anything. It’s been about eleven months since I published the novella with all the stats in the OP, and in that time only three people have subbed to my mailing list.

    Between your guys’ advice I’m leaning toward writing two more books (much fewer than my original plan, and about as short as I think I can make it and still wrap a good number of things up) and making some compromises between what I want to do and the boring and dumb promises I made in the first book. Thanks so much for the advice, both of you!

    And I wish you wisdom in figuring out what to do with your published book, Daeus. Have you considered putting out a second edition? Is the underlying structure and plot worth saving, or is it just something that leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth regardless?

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

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