5 Things I've Learnt From My Literary Autopsies

5 Things I’ve Learnt From My Literary Autopsies

In this post, Mia Botha shares five things she’s learnt from her literary autopsies.

I have this secret. There is this folder on my computer. Actually it is a folder hidden in a folder, hidden inside another folder, but regardless of how far I try to hide it, I know it is there. It lurks, it smells. It rots in quiet resignation in the bowels of my hard drive.

No, it is not an illegal snuff film collection.

It contains the carcasses of my unfinished novels. Characters that died mid-sentence, settings that dissolved into nothingness, stories that fizzled out and plots that got me trapped.

So dramatic, isn’t it? Why don’t I delete it? 

I keep this file of decaying words for a reason. I have learned so much from these novels. Even though I failed them they taught me something. I went through this folder again a while ago, looking for the reasons I never finished them.

5 Things I’ve Learnt From My Literary Autopsies

These are the five things I learnt from my literary autopsies:

  1. Word count. The first thing I notice is that I tend to stop at certain word counts. I stopped at around 5 000 words in two of them. The next three all died between 13 000 and 15 000 words. 35 000 is the next stopping point and another was complete at 55 000, but it was too one-dimensional. I have noticed in my current work that these intervals are the parts I have struggled with the most. Maybe it is psychological, but the proof is in the folder and the word count.
  2. Too ambitious. I now know that some of the plots were too ambitious for me. I was not skilled enough to tackle such a big story or such a complex plot. I might revise the plots later or use parts or characters I liked later. I might even try the story again much later.
  3. Weak characters. One novel failed simply because my hero’s goal and motivation wasn’t strong enough. That is a mistake you only make once.
  4. Silly things. I noticed silly things that I have learned to avoid. My male heroes all seemed to look alike. I guess I have a type. Now I make an effort to make them as different as possible.
  5. Setting. I still have to work on setting. Because I skip those parts when I read, I tend to do the same when I write. I need to fix it.

Instead of giving up like I used to, I find a new route. I have noticed that my writing has changed a lot. I can’t say yet if that is good or bad, but I guess it will change again and again and again.

I used to have twelve problems to solve, now that I’m aware of the problems, there are fewer and fewer. And let’s face it – it’s easier to keep going when you only have to fix something instead of everything. These are only some of the things that I have learned. I notice new things every time I revisit the manuscripts.

Take a look at your older work and see what you can learn.

TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.

Source for Image

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. What Watching Disney (and Pixar) Taught Me About Storytelling
  2. Ambiguity – The Kiss Of Death
  3. What Your (Non-Electronic) Writing Equipment Says About You
  4. Fiction Writers Should Have Fun – A Day In The Life Of Me

TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.

Posted on: 4th June 2014

2 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learnt From My Literary Autopsies”

  1. I also have folders like that … This is great encouragement to keep going. Thanks, Mia.

  2. Susan A. Royal

    So, so true. If we learn something with everything we write, we can only get better.

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