by Dennis Ricci
Six months ago, my literary life was riding high.
My debut novel, Perilous Judgment, had just produced its first four-digit sales month, thanks to a BookBub promotion arranged by my publisher. The month-after sales embers were still hot, and I was praising God for the discoverability breakthrough and its apparent staying power.
One Sunday in May after church, a trusted friend approached me and said, “I have a word for you.” Our pastor encourages us to practice our prophetic gifts, and her track record was solid. I was ready to be encouraged.
The word? “Be flexible.”
Odd. Flexible about what? When I asked her to clarify she said, “That’s all I heard.”
By this time my second novel was well underway, and I was on schedule to finish a first draft by the end of July. The year before, the summer writing season had been hijacked by life and ministry events and this year I was determined to press through to my goal, no matter what.
It happened again.
An outreach event my wife and I had volunteered to organize (God’s idea) expanded in scope (a good thing) and we’d assembled a team of forty people to execute it (also a good thing). By mid-June, the event had become all-consuming, and my story took a back seat.
The outreach event was a huge win (yay God!) I paid a high price, physically and emotionally, for reasons I won’t get into here. My self-imposed July deadline came and went. It took me more than a month to recover, but the time wasn’t unproductive.
It was in this season that I wrote and shared my last ACFW blog, “Story First, Novel Second.” I re-engaged my story by revisiting what I’d learned in two intensive story workshops, which led me to a deeper understanding of how God wants me to co-create with Him.
What happened in the next three months did not fit my expectations, my plan.
I’d planned and developed a sequel to Perilous Judgment, with the lead character from that story and his wife as co-protagonists. As I evaluated the story concept/premise, the characters and the web of relationships, and the story progression milestones, I became unsettled. It looked like the story concept (which my agent believes is strong) wasn’t going to work as a sequel.
I shook that thought off as creeping doubt, put my head back into the work, and pressed ahead. But the unsettled feeling wouldn’t leave me. I took it to the Lord. He reminded me of the word I’d heard—be flexible. So, I began to tear apart the subplots I’d built around the central plot, looked for ways to combine storylines and/or characters to tighten things up.
The unsettled feeling still wouldn’t leave. I decided to put the whole thing away and wait until I got back from the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference the last week of October. I had great expectations of creative immersion and inspiration, and that I’d leave the conference settled on how I would proceed.
Which I did. But not how I’d foreseen.
During one of the conference sessions on “story physics” by Larry Brooks, an unexpected realization came—I needed to completely disconnect my new story from Perilous Judgment. I needed to create a new lead character—a strong female lead rather than co-protagonists—and a whole new supporting cast.
I was stunned. And excited. I tapped an email to my agent on my phone. As I wrote, two alternatives came to mind, one of which was a complete departure from Perilous Judgment and the other an out-of-the-box idea that could have involved a remake of that first story.
After I sent the email, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me. I knew in that moment that I needed to say goodbye to the cast of characters I’d spent the last six years with and start fresh. It was like the Lord told me, “good job, son, you found the place I’ve been leading you to all along.”
The next day my agent responded. In agreement with the fresh start.
I was excited again. I shared my decision with a few readers and friends. More confirmation.
God used “story first, novel second” to take me in a direction I never expected. One of the joys of committing yourself to co-create with God—no matter how circuitous the route, if you trust in Him, He will direct your steps.
Before penning fiction, Dennis Ricci enjoyed a 37-year career as a marketing strategist, management consultant, and freelance copywriter. Now, in addition to writing novels, he mentors aspiring writers, conducts writing workshops, and co-directs a Healing Rooms ministry. Dennis and his wife Jill live in Thousand Oaks, California.