Learning from my mistakes

My last few blog posts were the prelude to a thriller that I started and then abandoned half-way through. I had stumbled on the remains of that project and decided that it would be fun to post a bit of it.

It was fun to read that old material, but it was also valuable to look at it critically with the benefit of a little distance and experience. There are things I still like about it, but there are also things I would do differently if I were starting that project now. What’s really interesting is that now I can spot decisions that I made in that material that—at the time—I didn’t even realize I was making. I’m just more aware of certain things now then I was then.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Should that novel have had a prelude at all? Some people hate preludes, but I don’t. In this case, though, I don’t think it was needed. All this particular prelude really accomplished was to set a mood and establish a question in the reader’s mind. Those are legitimate things to do, but they could have been done in other ways with less “overhead.”

The entire prelude was told through narration. I did that to give the prelude a voice that was distinct from the main story. I think it was successful in that respect, but now I realize that it was also a risky decision. Some readers would probably be turned off by a couple of pages of solid narration. I certainly wouldn’t recommend using that approach for anything longer.

Tropes everywhere! If there were a contest for how many tropes could be jammed into a short space, I would submit this prelude. Tropes are unavoidable, but these days I like to think I put more consideration into which I use. See tvtropes.org for an entertaining and educational list of tropes.


(See what I did there?) Seriously, though, the wordiness in this prelude comes from a combination of things: my natural tendency to be wordy and a lack of editing are big factors. But I think a lot of it also came from the writing process I was using at the time. I was still in the mode of obsessing about every sentence before moving on. Now, I draft by writing as fast as I can and leaving the tweaking for later.

It’s actually kind of nice to look back at old material. It makes me cringe a bit, but it also gives me a sense of progress. In its own way, that’s very motivating—it shows me that the work and practice are paying off, even if it isn’t always obvious when I’m in the middle of it.

(I took this picture in Berlin, through the window of a bus. A construction site with something beautiful in the background seems to have some parallels to this topic.)

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