Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm done, but still far from done.

Bear with me, if you will.  It's pretty wonky, so I'll understand if you don't.

This is about writing again.

What I'm trying to say here is, I'm not done until I'm done.  Which is obvious, but I'm having to learn it all over again.   I think I fooled myself at first that I could just dish out a book, but the deeper in the muck I get, the more I see I need to do yet.

Actually, this isn't all that different from the last time I tried to be a writer.

 "Oh!  Now I remember!"

It's like painful memories I've suppressed.  Yes, it always took me forever to get anything readable.  Even then, I'm not sure I ever got it to where it should be, I just didn't have enough patience to keep going.

I struggled with Star Axe for a good six years, going to writer's classes and just starting over again and again.  Finally, I just wrote a full draft and sent it off.

Snowcastles came easy, but it was short and simple and I was in the midst of my most intensive writing period.  But Icetowers had to be reworked several times.

The problems with the 4th and 5th books was that I DIDN'T do what I should have done, and got slapped down for it.

The 6th book, because of the suggestions of the editors, got rewritten all the way through several times, and while it came close to getting published several times, it never quite got there.

With 7th book, I got kind of stubborn: "I LIKE it!   To hell with them if they don't see its value!"

Like I said, suppressed memories.  Fooling myself that it will be easy this time.

This is my process, not anyone else, and it's insanely inefficient.  But I stumble around for a single idea, and then another, and then have to start all over.

 (Hanging out there: There is a legitimate question on some books, most books, whether they should continue to be worked on or simply given up on.)

Still -- creativity isn't a race.  There is no timeline here.  And in the scheme of things, I've accomplished a lot.  It was only a year and a month ago that I really kicked the writing thing into a higher gear; in that time, I've finished full drafts of two different novels.

I won't guess this time how close I am to finishing.  

Anyway, back to the present:

As I've been saying,  I reorganized the book, which was much simpler than I expected.  I think it reads better.

BUT:  The very fact that I could have moved so many scenes around and made it work means to me that I'm missing forward momentum.  That there is no buildup of suspense.

It's lacking something.  A damsel tied to the train tracks, a ticking time-bomb.

So far, its just sort of interesting, and somewhat clever, with some characters moving in a general direction.   But while I might get away with being lightly clever in a blog, it just doesn't hold a book together.  Either it has to be serious, or it has to be incredibly sustained cleverness -- which I just don't think I can pull off.

So serious it is.

Is it fixable?  Is there some method I can use to impart suspense?

I'm going to sleep on it for awhile.

Eventually, I'll  put it out there regardless -- but I think it is still missing something.  I'm sure I can find it.
(Next time, I think I will try to write an outline -- but I don't know if I can do that, because I tend to discover the story through the writing.  I've written outlines before and then never wrote the books.  But it would save a lot of false starts and deadends if I could see my way to it.)

Thing is -- weirdly enough, I think 'problems' are what make a book interesting.  That is, if I can identify why it isn't working -- which can be the hardest thing to do -- then I can try to come up with solutions, and in trying to come up with solutions I think of new things, new connections, which can make the book more interesting.

That is, the compromises I make, the explanations for contradictions, can add a layer of messy meaning.

Identifying problems gives me a chance to improve.

As long as I can keep identifying problems, I can keep improving.

Slept on it:

One thing I can do is go ahead and write 3rd person sections -- or turn the whole book into 3rd person as I originally intended.  That way, I can add the suspense elements without having to turn the plot upside down quite so much.  (Right now, it all has to happen with the viewpoint character...)

It is actually a nifty element of suspense to have the reader know things that the main protagonist doesn't.

I googled "suspense" and this is what I came up with:

Questions to ask:

What's going to happen? (That would seem implied in plot.  I've done that much, minimum.)

A puzzle.  (Who is Cthuhlu and what do they want?)

Exploring the unknown.  (Its dark and slimy and their something out to get them.  A dark garage, the caves, a dank basement.)

Damsel in distress;tied to the tracks.  (How about a missing child?  Someone we meet early.  Parker's child?  She's married, but in love with Parsons?)

Ticking timebomb.  (How about 3 days until the invasion?)

Who's going to die?  Have people missing.  Realize the authorities are in on it. 

I need a stronger villain than I currently have.   

Make the reader care. (Vonnegut's rules: "Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.")  Have Cobb be a boxed in, more restrained character -- with hidden strengths...have all of Faery against him, instead of for him...?  He can't go back to his old form, without forgetting everything he has learned as a human?  His old world hates him, (or so he thinks) and he doesn't fit in this new world.

Stack the odds against the main character.  (Vonnegut's rules: "Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.")

Jesus.  That is one hell of a lot of work.  Might as well write a different book!  Still, it's also a lot of raw material, which is no easy thing.  I talked above about doing an outline -- it may be a little late in the game, but it would seem to be time.


H. Bruce Miller said...

I'm curious: Do you write a plot outline -- or have one in your head -- before you start on a novel, or does it come to you as you go along?

Duncan McGeary said...

I more or less just start writing -- some glimmer of something.

Usually around 50 pages or so in, I get a glimmer of the rest of the book, though in the course of writing that may change.

Then I go back and change it, and so on. For instance, the original version of The Reluctant Wizard was all about Lore and his family and friends -- all very bucolic and pastoral.

I added the scenes with Kinnon and the Prince to add action and fantasy elements.

Each time, I think I've got it.

Already from the critiques I've gotten back so far, I know that I'll probably try to bring Simes and Frost into the story earlier.

That I'll probably have an early chapter of the confrontation between Kinnon's brother and the others and why the village is afraid of magic and why Lore is afraid to use it.

That I'll probably make Lore more an active participant and make his experiences less elegiacal.

That's just for starters.

Digital is a huge advantage this time -- even Sometimes A Dragon was mostly typewritten.

Now I can take an existing version, copy it, and mess with it all I want without fear of losing anything.

I just have to try to decide which changes I want to keep.

The two times I wrote an outline, I ended up not writing the book.

Today, before rewriting -- I worked out a plot summary for the first 2/3rds of the book, and I've been dipping into different parts of the manuscript, adding and subtracting.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Already from the critiques I've gotten back so far, I know that I'll probably try to bring Simes and Frost into the story earlier."

Good idea. I think the story takes too long to get going. Especially for young adults with short attention spans.

Duncan McGeary said...

Hey, hey, don't piecemeal it.
Give me the whole thing when you're done. ;)