Slogging Deeper Into The Muck

Even though I’ve written 78,000 words and much of it is near final draft stuff, I’m still slogging in the muck as I try to finish this novel. The thing I like and despise about writing–well, my writing–is that no matter how well you develop a chapter outline and no matter how carefully you write it, the story doesn’t really reveal itself for days or even months and constant re-writing. It I had world enough and time enough, this process could be enjoyable but it isn’t. I suppose this kind of frustration leads to writers block.

What happens is that during the night my brain processes what I’ve written, and this is well and good–I love this. The subconscious seems to connect the many dangling threads and when the work is done and I’m back at the computer in the morning, there’s an idea that needs to be incorporated. The problem is, sometimes those ideas must be inserted much earlier in the story, and frequently enough this leads to more threads that need connecting.

I like threads. I like stories with thousands of threads running, threads that I might not notice on the first read, but linger in my mind and draw me back and deeper into a story. I suspect that the typical sci-fi reader, reading for enjoyment, doesn’t particularly care about the threads but rather the cool stuff that’s happening. So if you dwell on the subtle threads to satisfy your sense of what is important, you can really slow down the action. Frankly, I don’t know what I’m creating. It could be pure self-indulgent crap. And that’s a whole ‘nuther subject and another type of slogging through muck. I mean, when the muck is too deep I have to go back again and clear it out to make the story move along.

Writing is hard work.

 

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Writing is Discovery, Dammit!

Dammit a hundred times.

The novel is now over 74,000 words, but I’ve spent the last week locking down historic characters. By that I mean, the period I’m writing about has a large cast of characters and while a few of them are well-known, there’s a large cast of supporting actors, so-to-speak. Many of that cast are relevant but some are far more relevant to the needs of the story.

For years I’ve created my named characters. The list has grown to fifty, although there are still only ten principal characters. However, during the past week I’ve added three historic characters that I’d only glanced over in the past. WTF? This story is twenty years in development and I’m just discovering three new characters? I mean, the book is over three quarters written? WTF?

Here’s the thing and I’ve said before and will probably say again and again, writing is a process of discovery; for me, that is. Keep in mind, when I decided to rewrite the second part of this novel I completed an extensive outline. My outline is mostly an outline, but also quite a few notes that any good editor or educator would point out to me that they are superfluous to the outline. Nonetheless, the outline is 17-pages of outline and foo-foo.

So you’d think I’d have a complete understanding of where this thing is going, yes?
~ Well, sorta-yes.

I’ve known pretty much where Book I ends from almost the beginning or at least by 2013. But as I write I am constantly surprised at how the story continues to reveal itself to me. There’s a process at some level of consciousness that is connecting the hundreds or thousands of threads that I’ve set in motion. The net effect is that I wake up and discover something new and unique that must be explored.

This story is Science Fiction, yanno. And the backstory revolves around a lot of History. But in the past, I think writers didn’t force their stories into historic events as much as they do in modern writing. But we have extensive resources that makes it possible to understand historic events more thoroughly than at anytime in the past, even in the case of authors who had massive intellects.

Anyway, writing is a process of discovery whether I like it or not. And just to make matters worse, it’s a process of discovery about my fictionalized characters as well. And the pressure to finish this thing by my self-imposed deadline builds.

 

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Progress: 14 Chapters and 70,000 Words

About ten days ago I took a trip to the Keys. We went as low as Bahia Honda but spent the nights on Islamorada. On returning I had a burst of new energy and set about editing Part II (26,000 words). The editing stirred a lot of good ideas and when I started writing again I was writing over a thousand words a day; one day I did 3,000 words.

In my early plans for the novel, I imagined 50-60,000 words would do the trick. I had plans for two follow-on novels, but I felt I could get a lot said in 60,000 words.

Today I passed the 70,000 word mark and I have five chapters to go. So, at 5,000 words a chapter I’m looking at 25,000 additional words. I’m hoping to cut the last chapter down to maybe 2-3000 words but most calculations give me 90,000+ words.

I realize that a lot of what I’ve written for Part II is crap, so I’ll need feedback from my editor to reel it in. And I’m starting to feel pressure because I don’t expect to submit to agents or publishers before September. And I won’t wait beyond October to publish. That means I’m cutting it close if I intend to enter the world of conventional publishing.

I enjoy the writing more and more. I am living the story through my characters and it is a unique feeling. I’ve said it before but I think there’s an aspect of writing that’s akin to mental illness. I told one of my editors I don’t want to be a ‘Writer’ or ‘Author’ and she was curious. She asked why I write and I told her that I want to tell this story. She logically concluded that I see myself as a ‘Storyteller’ but I told her I don’t see myself that way either.

Maybe when I finish the novel I’ll be able to classify myself. I write because I’m compelled to… does that make me a ‘Compulsive’? I suppose that’s it, although I would hate to be thought of that way.

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Part II is Half-Complete

A couple months ago I put Part I of my novel (40,000 words) aside to work on Part II. My editor Caroline had some very interesting idea that I explored. For one thing, I’d been inventing ways to make my heroine more active and it lead me down byways that were hollow. With Caroline’s evaluation I saw my way to an entirely new approach in Part II.

I started the new Part II with a complex outline. I was focused on tying historic events into the plot that my characters could interact in, but the main focus was to let my protagonist bloom. As of this date I’ve completed five of ten chapters in Part II or about 26,000 words. The new approach is very satisfying and I’m writing 1,000 words a day now… well, when I’m working. For example, next week I’m going to the Keys for a sentimental journey.

It looks like the novel will require another 25,000 to 30,000 words. Even if this thing expands to 100,000 words I think I can edit it down to 90,000 or even more in a final draft. Originally I was trying for a 60,000 word total, mainly because of self-publish costs; the cost of hard cover and paperback books can run up as word count expands.

Anyway, this cost thing has me rethinking how I go about getting published. Perhaps I’ll have to search for an agent/publisher. And after all the work I’ve done I’m not looking forward to hurling myself into that process. I could e-publish easily enough, but I like books and just can’t imagine going through the ordeal of writing to walk away without a nice hard cover book sitting in my book case. I suspect this is archaic sentimentality.

 

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A New Dilemma

Part I of my novel is complete and I’m good with my decision to significantly change Part II. The decision is good for a lot of reasons but I find myself churning a lot of publishing ideas. The dilemma is, if I wait to finish the Part II it will take months more of writing and editing, then trying to sell the story to agent or publisher.

Part I is about 40,000 words, but I pulled a lot of material in the interest of making the two parts roughly equal in size or a total of 80,000 words for the entire novel. I’m also finding that as I write Part II, it will exceed 40,000 words. So there’s that also.

Part I has been edited or commented on by five different editors. And it’s in the hands of two beta readers at the moment. I expect I’d have to put some additional work into it to make it standalone publishable, and it might expand to 45,000 words–more of a novella.

My plan all along has been to offer Part I for free, as an introduction to my writing. So financially there’d be no loss if I just self-publish as a standalone work. I’m cognizant of the possibility that self-publishing might alienate any agents who might be interested in publishing my work; I get that. But I anticipate writing several follow-on novels with  many of the same characters. The other thing is, while Part I and Part II have the same characters, the story and locations  are very different.

Publishing Part I as a standalone would certainly make writing a story synopsis much easier. Heh. So who knows? I’m leaning toward the self-publishing option but there’s still a lot to think about though.

UPDATE 22 May: Just did the math on both parts. I’ll stick with original plan to publish a single two-part novel. Just anxious to complete this thing. Part II to is intricately connected to historic events, so the writing is demanding. What a mess. heh.

 

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Part Two Re-do

I think it was El Gallo from ‘The Fantasticks’ who spoke the line: “You wonder how these things begin” or something like that. That’s were I am now.

There was always two natural parts to my novel, both heavy with plot and characters. But part I was truly a story, when I finally understood what I’d written for part II, I realized it wasn’t a story so much as a plot. I was afraid to let my protagonist take on the kind of role that was necessary for it to be a real story. In short, I see the problem now.

So I’m rewriting part two. It’s basically the same plot but it’s more like my first draft. In fact, many ideas from that first draft are being reintegrated; funny because I really didn’t like the first draft. Anyway, part two will be about 40,000 words but I have about half of that already written… more or less.

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Writing is Easy, but Writing a Novel…

I’ve had my writing voice for many years. I don’t know why it evolved the way it did, but it is easy for me to express my thoughts with this style. I write very fast most of the time and that means I have to go back and do a lot of self-editing. I sling sentences around until I’m okay with the way they sound in my head. It’s comfortable for me and this voice is why I write in first person, present tense.

Blogging and other forms of writing are relatively easy for me because there’s not much at stake, but writing a novel is another matter. I had thought that after over a decade of conceptualization and research, this novel would be relatively simple to write. And the first draft was relatively easy, although looking back at previous posts it looks like I was struggling even then.

But I’ve been learning much more about this novel, this story, as I dig deeper into it. The characters are becoming more complex, even the ones I already knew would be complex. There are hundreds of threads that must be reconnected at different points along the way. If I knew in the beginning what I know now I’d have built my outline around the threads. It’s something I’ll do in the follow-on book or books. There’s also the subtleties of first person writing.

I’ve read that 90% of all science fiction novels are written in third person, but I’ve also noticed that there are more first person sci-fi novels in the past decade. Well, that’s subjective. I don’t have any research on this and don’t particularly care because I’m sticking with “the horse that brung me”, first person.

Something Must Be Wrong

My editors have noted something in my writing that concerns me. All of them (four editors) seem to point this out; that is, I will say something that I don’t explain in more detail immediately. For example, I might say “It was the system controlling the [unique mechanism] surrounding the transport ships.” And editors might want to know what the ‘mechanism’ is or what it does, or words to that effect. In my mind it is a simple question that suggests a complex system, it’s a curiosity, but doesn’t have to be answered for the story to work. It’s not intended to raise suspense in the story. I will explain the term later in the story because I feel it require further explanation, but I’m speaking in real-time, present tense. If I stop to explain it, I’ll be writing a lengthy descriptions or back story narrative.

Are These Ideas Right or Wrong?

So what’s wrong with lengthy descriptions? I think it works okay for third person writing, where things are being explained in a more traditional narrative. But you are walking into my story and there’s a lot you’ll not know about the scenes because it is a complex plot. I’ve chosen to leave out details like what a ‘unique mechanism’ is because there are much more important things to reveal. My notion is that by adding to the ‘mechanism’ description later it will hit the reader as an, “Ah, I was wondering about that.”

There are two other reasons I don’t feel I can go into explanations, aside from “Show don’t Tell”. First, I have friends who are avid sci-fi readers and both of them dislike a lot of explaining or back story at the beginning of a story. In one case, the reader feels the same way about third person. The second reason deals with my changing view of stories; that is, I see my stories as if they are motion pictures or television series. For example, you can be dropped in a scene and the only thing you have is a couple of people talking about this or that, but you don’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

I write from the perspective of a movie. The problem is, when you see a story on-screen you can draw a lot of conclusions about place and characters from what you observe. This is where the editors are dead-on right, you have to describe the scene or the reader will be lost and confused. And I’m ready to acknowledge that I must be coming up lite on these descriptions, but I’m also convinced that my editors see my writing through the lens of third person. One editor went as far as to suggest that I don’t attempt to write in first person because it is very hard. Hmmm.

The Story of Max Perkins

Last night I watched a magnificent HBO movie, “Genius”. It’s a story of Scribner’s Sons editor, Max Perkins, editor to Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a young Thomas Wolfe. If you enjoy the writing of that era, it will enrich your understanding. Basically, Max Perkins helps Tom Wolfe reduced the size of a giant manuscript (330,000 words) entitled O Lost into the highly successful Look Homeward, Angel. In my mind Perkins took a wildly undisciplined and self-centered young genius and helped him realize his potential.

For his second book, the film depicted Tom Wolfe bringing in three crates of writings, representing hundreds of thousands of words. It was everything I’ve read that you should not do if you want to get published. But Perkins believed in Wolfe’s genius and spent the next two years intensely helping Wolfe create his second novel, Of Time and the River, another great success. But there was an undercurrent in the story, Perkins wondered if all his editing might have destroyed the true value of Wolfe’s work.

Not mentioned in the film was the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Matthew Bruccoli, who reassembled the original manuscript for O Lost. It was finally published in 2000 because Bruccoli believed the Perkins’ editing resulted in an inferior work. I tend to believe that Thomas Wolfe was lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins. I don’t have to read the original to be certain that the Perkins edited work was the true masterpiece. One reviewer of Wolfe’s first work said, “…the product of an immense exuberance, organic in its form, kinetic, and drenched with the love of life…” The book must have been a great event at the time and while I can appreciate Wolfe’s poetic genius, I’m inclined to feel “drenched” in Wolfe’s lack of discipline and self-indulgence. I know, I know. I’ve committed a sacrilege and I apologize to those with a better understanding of literary genius. Let me reiterate, Wolfe was damned lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins.

Moving Forward

One thing the HBO film has done, it has increased my sense that I must write the way I know how. However, I’m very mindful of what I’ve learned from my editors. Btw, I think I’m lucky to have done some early work with different editors.

Writing a novel is hard, for me that is. Some popular authors can create new books like clockwork, and maybe I’ll be there some day. But for now it is very hard work.

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