This post was written specifically for the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.
I’m not entirely sure when the term ‘trunk novel’ first came into being but it seems to have a fairly recent origin. The general idea is that a ‘trunk novel’ is usually a first effort, maybe complete, maybe not; and one that the author has set aside, possibly permanently.
While the term might be new, the notion isn’t. Chances are, any artist (with the possible exception of Mozart) is going to have a potentially embarrassing early work they don’t want to put out. To quote an interview I read years ago:
Every writer has about a quarter of a million words of self-indulgence he has to get out.
Junk Mail by Will Self (p. 144). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
By most reckonings, that’s the equivalent of 2 to 2 and a half novels. So once you have your trunk novel(s), what do you do with it?
The first, and easiest, answer is to forget about it,. But when do we ever do things the easy way? I’ve said before (on a previous Toolbox post, no less) that I like to have an alternate project to play on if I feel stuck with my main WIP. Maybe your trunk novel can act as the same. Either you can keep going with that story or you can use it as a means of honing your craft.
Even just reading over past work can be useful. If you originally abandoned it due to quality concerns, maybe the time away will have helped remedy that. You can use what you’ve learned since you originally wrote it to identify what wasn’t working before and what you can do better.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to continue with that particular story for whatever reason, you can always cannibalize it. With a few tweaks, you might be able to re-tool scenes for use elsewhere.
For example, my trunk novel (started when I was 18 or so) is a mystery thriller that, to be honest, I don’t see a future for. But there was a scene in there set in a morgue. I just happened to have a need for a morgue scene in House Valerius. So I went back, looked at what I had written previously, and took the bits I thought I could use and were worth saving.
Ultimately, having a trunk novel is both nothing to be ashamed of and potentially a learning experience.
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