When Is It Time to Kill Your Novel?

Nearly every writer will face a moment when he must decide what to do about a work-in-progress that is not publishable. That decision is much tougher when the writer has put much time and sweat equity into the work.

I recently abandoned my work-in-progress, a political novella entitled, “Life of the Party: A Tale of Politics, Rap Music and Social Media.” It wasn’t because of the long, unwieldy title. I killed the project after doing a thorough read-through of my first draft. I made a number of comments in the margin and then conducted a candid self-assessment of the work. Two issues were decisive factors for me. First, the story needed a lot of work. It took writing the first draft for me to discover the essence of the story, but when I did, I realized all but about a half-dozen scenes either had to go or needed massive revisions. And, I needed to write a number of new scenes to embellish the story and the theme.

I could have fixed the story, though it would have taken a lot of work. The bigger problem, though, was the main character. I never felt I got the “voice” right and I didn’t know how to fix that. Compounding that issue was the fact the story was outside my genre and my comfort zone. I’m not suggesting writers should never venture from their comfort zones. I found it liberating and fun. But in the final analysis, the story has to hang together and all the elements must work.

When you have doubts about your work-in-progress, how do you know when to kill your novel?

Here are a few suggestions:

You don’t feel passionate about it. It’s hard to generate excitement in the reader if you’re not feeling it.

You know it’s not working and it doesn’t just need a few tweaks, but an overhaul. One caveat: if you have the passion about the story, do try to fix the problems.

You cannot get your main character to work for you. I believe novels are fundamentally built on strong characters, not plot. The main character is the foundation for your story. You must feel confident about your main character.

The story doesn’t work. It’s not believable or it doesn’t hang together and it cannot be repaired.

Here are a few other great tips from guest blogger Marcus Brotherton on Rachelle Gardner’s blog:


Have you ever killed a work-in-progress? What were the deciding factors in your decision?



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2 responses to “When Is It Time to Kill Your Novel?

  1. Tessa

    Sorry to hear the shelving of the book 😦
    It has an interesting concept. Maybe it does not need to be killed but iced for awhile until the time is better?

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