When You Accidentally Start Writing the Wrong Novel

So I hit my self-imposed goal of 30,000 words by January 25th. Yes, I realize now in looking over my 2021 Goals post that I’d said 20,000, but proceeded to then forget the actual number and went with what I vaguely remembered—30k.

The other…interesting hiccup is that this…isn’t the novel I started with. See, I was about 15k into a different novel, then this thing came along and blindsided me. Words were coming slow for the 15k one, so I decided, on a lark, I’d try my hand at fanfiction just to shake things up.

The attempt lasted less than a day. I categorically failed at writing fanfiction.

What I did succeed at, though, was starting a completely different book, a book that I humored for the first 1,000 words. Then the second. Then the third. And by the time I hit 10k in less than a week, I had to admit to myself that, er, this was the new book, not the other.

Essentially, I’ve written 30,000 words in three weeks. That’s probably the most productive I’ve been in sheer word count since undergrad. Huh.

In retrospect, I tried to pull the other one out of the proofing drawer too soon, and while it looked risen at first, the more I tried to knead it, the more I realized it hadn’t built up the gluten. This thing is more like the baking equivalent of three ingredient no-knead bread.*

It’s also an absolute blast to write. I’m currently sitting at 32K and honestly, my output has only slowed because grad school started this week and I’m still acclimating to that.

This is not the novel I intended to write, but it is the novel that’s getting written. Which is…interesting, to say the least. In many respects, this is the first novel I’ve worked on without a formal outline planned. Yes, I know where it’s going, but because it’s rather more linear that my previous ones and, so far, has just the one viewpoint character, it seems to require less pre-writing, less balancing of story threads, so I can fall back more on plain-old play. “Oooh, if I introduce this complication, what’ll happen? Oooh, if it instead jinks to the left here instead of the right, where does that lead?”

It’s also rather refreshing to tackle a project that’s rather finite and, hm, constrained. It’ll probably be a duology, but only because it’d be impractical, size-wise, as one book, but it is one story. There are no standalone components. And, as it’s just the one viewpoint character doing the one thing, I have to juggle fewer future timelines and reveals because, er, it’s rather simple in its structure.

Which brings me to the grand reveal: it’s Chosen One fantasy.

I swore I’d never write Chosen One fantasy. It’s boring, it’s familiar ground, it’s been written to death. And yet…exploring it, directly engaging with it, balancing homage with subversion, has been a fascinating sandbox in which to play.

Also, I really enjoy the idea of a chosen one who’s fast approaching middle age and is, essentially, a level 1 hero but a level 50 quartermaster; all his skills are with numbers, ledger books, and logistics, not with waving swords around and challenging gods. And I’m having far, far too much fun with a character who is ethnically from a certain land, but culturally from another, and struggling to adapt in the land supposedly his homeland when his heart belongs to a completely different place, one that, frankly, is more often the aggressor…

I realize this is incredibly vague. I tend to do that. So! In light of vagueness, I instead present—drumroll, please—concept art!

Because why not riding dinosaurs? No color version yet, but their feather crests are almost macaw-bright, with the rest of their scaly selves more alligator/crocodile in coloration and texture. And with this one, fantastical change, suddenly, I have so much freedom with designing the local flora and fauna. So far, it’s limited to the dinos and a sort of cross between a ring-tailed lemur and a skunk, but I expect this to continue, because why not? Because if I’m going to explore such familiar territory as the Chosen One, I might as well go completely ham with everything else. At the very least, it’ll push my creature-design skills to their limits.

As a challenge, I aim to finish this draft within the year. Step up my production schedule, ’cause three years for a novel is rather long, just in the scheme of making this a career. So! 120K by January 2022.

That’s the goal, at least. We’ll see how this goes.

* Have I been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show? …maybe.

2 thoughts on “When You Accidentally Start Writing the Wrong Novel

  1. This is basically the story of how I started writing fan fiction.

    “Which brings me to the grand reveal: it’s Chosen One fantasy.”

    No hate here. Although I don’t disagree entirely with the criticism, I actually love the Chosen One trope a lot. I just think there is more to do with it than a lot of writers do. One of these days I want to write a straight chosen one origin story where the it’s revealed that their main goal is this totally mundane thing, it just happened to be absolutely integral to the resolution of the conflict (or whatever). So what happens to a successful chosen one whose life is consumed by their destiny but who will not reap any rewards of their heroic status? It’s basically the flipside of “you had ONE job”.

    I am also always here for any protagonist who breaks the young/twentysomething mold of heroes.

    2020 actually blessed me with my best idea for a novel ever and I am so wanting to do it, but it’s so different from my usual writing fare (though actually quite in line with my previous academic interests) that I am having a hard time getting started. My good friend’s husband died and one of the things I loved about him was that he was always her biggest cheerleader and she wouldn’t have finished her novel without his unwavering support and encouragement. We were talking recently and I told her about my idea and that, if the combination of covid and cancer hadn’t touched our lives and I had been able to talk about my idea with him, I know that Daryl would have said, “Elspeth, you HAVE to write that novel.”

    So I guess I have to. But oh where to start!?


    1. Yay! I, too, enjoy Chosen One stories, I just never thought I’d write one, mostly ’cause trying to sell one…the advice is “the publishing industry has seen enough, you’ll never write anything new/special.” So I was always like, “Well, guess that avenue is cut off.” But since at first it was fanfic, I couldn’t possibly sell it, so that didn’t matter and I could do what I wanted. Restriction, lifted! Now that it isn’t fanfic anymore, that core is still there, and I find…it’s way more fun to mess with the tropes associated with it than I’d ever thought.

      And, awww. I’d read that in a heartbeat. 😉

      That’s a scary place to be–the fear of screwing up something that you know can be so damn good, but you’re not sure if you can execute it/do it justice. That it’s outside of your normal doesn’t help. It’s terrifying and paralyzing and the anxiety of it is not a fun place to be, but…oftentimes (not all the time, but oftentimes) those are the stories that are most rewarding to write, in my (albeit, limited) experience. Difficult and painful in the moment, but of endless value to have done. Some people find that telling themselves this is draft 0 helps get the ball rolling, some people find it’s outlining. Me, I embrace the philosophy of “Fuck it.” So what if it isn’t perfect? It’s as good as I can make it at this stage in my development as a writer. There are so many ways to start, but finding what works for this novel might be an experience of trial and error, though I think you’ll find your in. Might take a bit, but you’ll find it. I wish you all the productivity and happy writing!


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