Learning to write well is a road of peaks and valleys. At the moment, I am plunging into a valley. My story is unraveling in front of my very eyes. The cause? Too many characters.

ofphtMy critique partners all say the same thing. The work is too confusing, and the characters have essentially become talking heads in their minds. At first, I brushed the comment aside as coming from a partner unfamiliar with the fantasy genre. I thought of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, a fantasy close to bursting at the seam with bodies. I thought of Tolkien, King, and Rice, and the league of imaginary men, women, and children littering their stories. But, since other people stepped up commenting on the overabundance of people in the sentences I’d strung together, I had to face the truth.

Old Souls is a novel narrated by Lucien Navarro; the content is 100% limited to his perspective: the world as he sees it and the characters he encounters. Maneuvering the story through his narrowed view is a challenge. It’s not like television or the movies, where other cast members can simply linger in the background of an important conversation while throwing in the occasional line. This is a book, a hallucination I’m luring my readers to imagine in their brains. The reality is, if the characters in the background of a scene are not referred to often enough, they will, in effect, disappear.

So, how do other authors get away with their plethora of players? Usually, with an omniscient point of view, where the narrator is a god able to dip in and out of the consciousness and histories of any character they wish, building scenes which focus on various cast members independently.

My book won’t work like that. The only solution? Seek and destroy.

ofq59I’m finding the cuts to be hard, to put it mildly. I know these people. I made them.

In addition to the surplus of characters, I also have to gut and revise my first three chapters, and that’s hard, too. I also have to change the way the political system works, and THAT’S EFFING HARD TOO, okay? Sometimes writing comes easy, and sometimes it doesn’t, it’s one of the rules of the game. In the past I have spent months away from my book, trying to rally the willpower to tackle it again. Right now, I am doing my best to avoid another spell *shudder* not writing.

i-dont-know-how-she-does-it_104921-1024x768The reasons to put on the brakes are piling up. My house needs a deep clean. My children are off school. My husband could use some support while tackling his new career, which actually brings in a paycheck.

Added to all of that is the ever present, first-time-author doubt that my book will suck, nobody will buy it, and all of my work will have been for nothing.

But, my book doesn’t suck. It’s pretty good, actually, and after a couple more rounds of edits, it’s going to be pretty freaking great. And that’s what I have to keep telling myself. If you’re struggling, that’s what you have to tell yourself. Not giving up in this stage of the game is what’s going to separate me from the millions of authors who attempted the very same thing I’m trying to accomplish right now.

Getting the bloody thing finished.

(Which I will do, after this short break.)


21 thoughts on “Doubt

  1. I only know you just a very little, and then not by sight or sound but through your words, words which touch me, get in to my mind, make me think, sometimes more than a bit ( but I forgive you!), and I find that I believe in you, that you have a certain ‘something’, you can write, much more than just alright, you have a passion, a zeal, so keep your characters, they are a part of you and what you give, if you need them, your story does too, there is no one way of reading, or thinking, and least of all writing, you do it your way and I for one will pay to read you, promise. K D.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, KD.
      That’s very kind of you to say!
      Learning to write is a journey, I think… And I’m still learning. I think many new authors fall into the trap of throwing in a handful of extra characters. I think the trick might be not to kill them, but to morph a few of them into each other.
      Thanks for commenting. Your encouragement is appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We just found each other on Twitter, and at your invitation, I visited your blog. OMG……You are in my head, in the same place I am, and I am battling doubt–HOURLY. I am about 5 chapters from finishing my 1st draft or my first ever novel. My kids are off school. My house has a shit-load of projects (I already allowed myself to redo my dining room, hired painters for my great-room, and am contemplating turning the guest room into a writing room or a bedroom for my oldest son). I am a full-time teacher and the school year starts for me on August 3rd! I have also determined that I am a bit scared to finish…because then I edit, and then I query, and then I get told “we aren’t interested in your book, thanks anyway” at least 50 times before some publisher who should know better accepts my project. Bloody effacing writer, right? WRONG. My book doesn’t suck. I love my characters and I believe someone out there in publisher land will love it too. Thanks for your blog today, I will be back-often, but I need to get this thing finished!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Your critique partners are right about too many characters, unfortunately. 😦 Last week I read a book that I struggled to get through because of too many characters. It was so confusing because I wasn’t into it and only read it while I was at the pool during my kid’s swimming lessons. Think about that. A lot of people will read for a few minutes here and a few minutes there. When they come back to the book, they’re confused about all these people. “Wait- now who is this one again?”

    Finally, I was determined to get through this thing once and for all, so I sat down and read it through to the end one evening. It turned out to be ok after all. But how many readers will do that? Most would put it down and decide it’s not worth the effort.

    As for the self-doubt, I’m with you. The reason why your blog really touches fellow writers is because you write what we’re thinking. You’re going through what we all go through, and it’s refreshing to know that we’re not alone in these struggles.

    I’ve been going through my book proof and comparing it to other books. Mine is different, and I’m breaking writing rules all over the place. But you know something? There are famous authors who break the rules too. And other writers are going to be the most critical. But what about typical readers? (Admittedly, writers are also among the readers.) I had three typical readers read my book, and they all loved it, despite it not “following the rules.” So try not to get too overwhelmed.

    Now I need to take my own advice. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are absolutely right, D.M.,
      Too many characters will be too big a problem for many readers to overcome. When I can, I often try to read books while my three boys are playing soccer. It’s definitely easy to get pulled away from the story. I started reading a book a month ago, and I still haven’t managed to get half way through.
      I appreciate the nice words about the blog. It is nice to be able to connect with people in similar situations. After talking back and forth with you, I can’t wait to get into your story and check out your writing style.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You need a pep talk. Fine. We ALL do at times.

    I came in late to your story and I was totally captivated, wasn’t I?
    And I don’t even like that genre!
    I can’t put it down! I read it on my vacation when I’m relaxing!
    I make suggestions at three in the morning!
    It’s that stinking good!
    I THINK I offered to help you get it published. Yeah, cos it sucks.

    It doesn’t suck. Far from it.

    It’s VERY good and you’re going to be happy with how it does when it comes out, and you’ll look back on days like this and, well, you won’t laugh, but you’ll remember them as we once did when we were learning to drive a car. It was all we could do to keep the vehicle on the road, and now we can drive, tune the radio, yell at the kids – all at the same time.

    HOW do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Baby steps. (Pick your analogy.)

    You are allowed to have days of doubt. It is honest that you posted bout it. Fear not, all will be well. This is part of the “talking you off the ledge” speech we all need on occasion. This is when lesser writers give up. You’re feeling overwhelmed and insecure. We all do on occasion, even me. I recently was talked off the ledge by a friend, who I in turn had talked off HER ledge about nine months ago.

    It’s like when your kid can’t do something like catch a baseball or snap her fingers, and you just smile and encourage them because you know they’ll get it. They don’t know it, but you do.

    People who have been there and done that think you can do it and are willing to help you do it.
    The only people who don’t occasionally worry about their writing are people who don’t care. Doubt is a form of quality control.

    You’ll be fine, trust me. I once was where you are, and you’re a better writer than I was at that point. You’re probably still a better writer than me.

    This is part of the hard stuff that non-writers don’t understand. But it’s all part of the process and you’ll be stronger on the other side. Meanwhile, let your friends shower you with praise to erase your doubts.

    They aren’t telling you lies.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Whew.
      That was a pep talk, all right!!
      And, I really appreciate it. Know that I’m not giving up, just working my way back through the story so I can untangle the lines. This book is going to come out this year, if it KILLS ME. (I only say that because I’m pretty sure I won’t die from a little hard work. C’mon, I have three kids :))
      I know the story is good. If I can get someone as accomplished as you on my team, I feel like that says a lot.
      Thank you so much for this, Dan. And, congratulations on completing your upcoming book!!


  5. This is like reading my life story. Big fantasy book. Lots of characters. Making deep edits. Rewriting the first chapters. Then rewriting the first chapter 30 times. Kids home. Husband with ACTUAL paycheck. Huge dream. But gonna make it happen!

    By the time I got deep into my book, I realized I was going to have to go back and make those first chapters sing. Somewhere between chapter 1 and 20, you figure out what you are doing. Then you realize how much you have to cut, cut, cut and rewrite. Here’s hoping when we get to the se

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not certain that your only option is to destroy characters, although combining two here and there if they don’t contribute enough to the story to deserve a first or second class presence might be wise.

    I just finished a long book with around 10 POV characters. I did it from third person limited, so each new scene is from the perspective of the person who can move the story along best at that point. I was able to go deeply into the thoughts of each character, giving them much more depth than when they’re only observed by another character. I only needed to make it clear at the beginning of each scene whose perspective we were seeing things from and then you’re re rejoining their little ride.

    For reference, here’s a link for the book, which is open for public beta-reading on Amazon’s WriteOn site:



    • Combining a few characters here and there is exactly how I’ve solved my problem. That’s great advice. (Even though it does still hurt my author’s heart a little.)
      I will definitely swing by for a look at your book. Thank you so much for the link.


  7. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing your heart. I enjoy authenticity and vulnerability in people. I too have been in the midst of editing my latest novel, and it is murder to have to edit out characters and re-write entire chapters. I feel your pain. You are closely knit to your characters; they are your children; and boy does killing them off hurt!
    You sound like you are finding a way to accept the helpful criticism, make positive changes to your book, take a break when necessary and never give up.
    I’m so glad to hear you say that your book doesn’t suck and that it’s good and getting better all the time – because I believe that – for you and for me.
    Take the break you need from this and then when you are ready, you will be rejuvenated and resolved to finish strong.
    Best of wishes to you!
    Michael Allen Williamson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Michael! I really appreciated your comment. Killing off your characters is kind of like killing off your children, isn’t it? All the best to you, as well 🙂


  8. Ms.Allen,

    I just learned almost the same news…extensive work still needed on my novel too. However, I would rather hear someone’s honest opinion and how to help me solve the issues than a line of BS that they like it when I know it’s too complex for the average reader.

    Sometimes, we have to do things to move in the right direction.

    I am in the same boat as you without the paddles. But, overcoming adversity is the name of the game and we will overcome to be published. It hurts to hear the critics say it’s not ready yet, and I want both of us to be published. I plan on listening, taking the constructive criticism to my advantage and get my book ready to be published as soon as possible.

    I love your style, and I will be cheering you on in the background.

    Your friend,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just like in any other profession, our ability to accept and learn from honest, helpful criticism can dramatically improve the final product of our work. Keep at it! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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