My wife put down my Kindle and looked at me, clearly trying to think of what words to use.
“Just tell me,” I said.
“The side plot between these characters is a much more interesting story than the main character.”
I took a deep breath and looked out the window at the road ahead of us, going on endlessly in a straight line, walled on both sides by empty cornfields that hadn’t started growing yet.
“It’s a problem,” she said.
I wanted to be angry. I wanted to tell her that somehow she’d read the book wrong. I cried when I wrote those final scenes. I could barely see the screen as I wrote it. “Did you find it emotionally impactful, at least?”
I was about to chew a hole through my lip.
“Look,” she said. “You know these characters. They’re in your head. You’ve lived with them for months and when bad things happen to them, you feel it. But right now, the reader doesn’t. We aren’t invested in them like you are.” She was right. Of course, she was right. She was looking out the window now, thumb tapping on the top of my Kindle. I’d uploaded my first draft to and handed off to her to read. It’d been slow going for someone who is usually an incredibly fast reader, probably because I’d get defensive when she’d offer constructive criticism or tell me when something wasn’t working right. “You need to decide what your story is. Is it the side story or is it her story. If it’s the side story then she shouldn’t be the main character. And if it’s her story then you’re going to need to give me a reason to care about her.”
So I spent all weekend coming up with ideas and writing down plans and working on ways to develop my character. I’d already written 20k of a new draft before she’d finished reading that weekend. This was of course, a mistake, but the good thing was that I’d realized where I wanted my main character to begin and how she could change over the course of the book. And on the drive home, we chatted and talked. We paused our conversation at Barnes and Noble while I looked over books on writing. Character Arcs. Writing Voice. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. And then we continued the conversation at Red Robin over burgers while our son ate fish and yelled about his crayons.
It kept coming down to me needing to make changes. Big changes. It was more than just deleting a few things and adding in replacement. I needed to write a new story. And then we discussed some ideas that actually sounded interesting and that’s when I knew we were in the right direction. I’d found a new story within this world with my characters that was more exciting than the original.
It’s hard saying goodbye to the things you’ve put everything into. On stuff that made you cry and got you excited. It’s hard to completely wipe characters from your book as I will likely need to do. But that’s part of being a writer, isn’t it? Writing isn’t just creation. It’s also destruction and sacrifice. And more than that, I want to tell a good story, and that means being okay with letting things go if they aren’t working. So here I go again. Back at zero but with a direction to head in.