Lessons learnt from shelving an old series

I’ve covered this material before, but this post breaks it down into a succinct list, summing up the main reasons I shelved the first series I wrote with my Atlantic City characters. Up until a few years ago, I really did have plans to transcribe these old handwritten books, along with significant editing, rewriting, revising, editing, fleshing-out, and polishing, but it just dawned on me that, realistically, they required way too much work to justify the effort. The particular problems with this series can also be applied to anyone’s books in possible need of shelving.

1. The titles were terrible, corny, cliché, unimaginative, generic, insipid. Obviously, titles can and do change (otherwise my first Russian historical would still have the cringeworthy title Amy and the Boys), but the chosen working titles were just so indicative of the shallow, clichéd, derivative, unoriginal writing within. A Disease Called Adolescence, What Exactly Is Love?, On the Verge of Adulthood, And All Grown Up, etc. The planned titles for the series about their college years were awful too, like Life Ain’t Fair and Almost Adults. A number of the working titles in my Max’s House series are/were awful too, but at least the existing books don’t require nearly such exhaustive editing efforts.

2. Adding too many characters to an already large ensemble cast. Even in a long-running series or family/town saga spanning many years, there should always be a reason for including characters. It’s one thing to have minor background characters, like siblings for main characters, but when you include everyone and anyone, you stretch yourself too thin. A bunch of new people show up in 8th and 9th grade, for no other reason than to be the requisite “cool new friends.” Five of these people become main characters in their own right, but the other seven don’t really serve any purpose. All but one of their “new college friends” are even more pointless and expendable.

3. Too much flipping back and forth between scenes and characters. I freely admit this was, like much of the rest of these books, inspired by soap operas. But in a book, it’s just annoying to be jerked back and forth among scenes and characters so frequently, and ruins any dramatic momentum.

4. There weren’t many original ideas, and I relied too much on what I thought books about young people were “supposed to” be like. Since this was the early Nineties, “problem novels” and after school specials were big on my radar. Thus, there were so many insipid, clichéd storylines. Drinking! Drugs! Underage, unprotected sex! Fights with parents and siblings! Dating woes! Wild parties! Rape! Bullying! Stealing! Al’s eating disorder!

5. These books no longer represent the people these characters ultimately developed into. It would just take far too much work to fix this massive problem.

6. Too much overlap with my other series with these people. At one point, I had something like 13 different spinoffs planned or in progress, and I ultimately realized that created far too much overlap with the same characters, timelines, and material. There are only so many iterations of the same events experienced by different characters you can write well, before it just becomes the same story over and over again.

7. Terrible, clichéd, corny dialogue. Enough said.

8. Gossip Girl in period clothes. These people carry on like teens of the early 1990s, with some 1940s window dressing thrown in every so often. There’s no real sense this is supposed to take place in the 1940s, apart from said window dressing and obnoxious, heavy-handed reminders.

9. Since these were handwritten, they just stopped in media res when I reached the end of that part of the notebook. This led to some really awkward, unnatural endings, and rushed resolutions. Some books didn’t even have real endings, forced or not. They just stopped in media res.

10. Unrealistic, overnight reformations. The first book, the beyond-cringeworthy Proud to Be a Smart, was about the rival clubs AS (Anti-Smarts) and ASS (Anti-Smarts Sucks). I kid you not, goody-goody Samantha’s club was really named ASS. As the book wears on, more and more characters move to loser Sam’s club, and by the second book, just about everyone has become her friend. Without any real reasons given. Oh, and they also give up their wild behavior cold turkey. I still use the clubs in other books, but they’re no longer such a huge, overwhelming storyline.

11. Where’s Levon? Cinnimin’s soulmate, the love of her life, wasn’t even a figment of my imagination. It’s so weird to read through these old manuscripts and see such a major character MIA. It involves a substantial amount of rewriting to go back and add in an important character.

12. Writing these eight books was NOT a waste. It gave me so many great characters and storylines, albeit used in different ways, and I used the best bits in other books. By the time I got to the last book, set in 1950, the characters had led me to exactly where we needed to be.

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