Monday, September 25, 2006

Progress and Deterrence

So, last night, I completed my second basic draft of my novel.

Strangely enough, I don't really feel any sense of accomplishment for having done so. More than anything, I just kind of feel mentally tired from it. I mean, I know I tried hard, and I know that I made some good changes, but from what I can tell, completing a second draft doesn't feel at all like completing a first draft.

The other thing about it is that it sort of makes me not want to even think about writing for a good long while, now. The inherent difficulty of novel writing seems to have just accentuated the inherent difficulty of writing, period, and so the prospect of working on even a short story, right now, seems very daunting.

It's kind of like how I imagine I'd feel if, for two months straight, I'd been forced to eat chicken parmesan for dinner every night—every night, chicken parmesan, unable to stop until the big huge freezer I had was empty—and then, when I'm finally done, the next night I get offered chicken tetrazzini. Sure, technically, it's different and it's a change of pace, but the last thing I want at that point is more chicken.

Maybe (hopefully) this is all just some predictable writerly malaise. I'd hate to have to feel this way for long. Especially since I still have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Complications Through Simplification

In redrafting my novel, one of the primary aims I've had since the beginning has been to trim things down to make the story itself more streamlined. There was a lot of stuff that was either extraneous or which just made things more complicated than they needed to be for the story to be told. I think that I identified most of those points early on, and so from the beginning of the redrafting process, I'd been taking correctional steps.

Now that I'm getting towards the end of the novel (I'm redrafting it from beginning to end in one big, long sweep, first), I'm finding that I'm doing a lot more rewriting because of those simplifying changes. Basically, because certain plot threads were removed or retooled, now that the plot is coming together, there's a lot that needs to be accordingly changed so that these old references aren't still in the way.

At first, I was kind of dismayed, mostly because it just made for a lot more work on my part. After thinking about it, though, I think that it's an indication that the plot of the novel has formed very organically; if by changing something on page 30, I accordingly have to change something else on page 170, then that's a sign that I've kept something coherent together. Thinking it about it still more, I'd be worried if I could swap out some episode in the middle of the novel with a completely different scene and have that interchangeability not have any repercussions on what comes after it.

My hope is that I'll be able to get through the rest of the manuscript by the end of this coming weekend. As I get closer to the end, though, there's a lot more hands-on redrafting to be done, beyond just simple editing and tweaking, so it might be a longer process than I think (after all, having never written a novel before, I don't have a lot of experience to help me gauge this sort of thing). Then again, I have a mostly blank weekend ahead of me, as near as I can tell, so I should be able to devote a lot of time if I need to.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Write What You Know (Or Can Reasonably Pretend To)

One of the things that you hear a lot is that most folks' first novels are autobiographical to some extent (sometimes to a larger extent than others). I can sort of understand why this would be the case: after all, the old axiom is to "write what you know," and the one thing that folks should know better than anything else is themselves (in an ideal world, at any rate).

I'm looking at my own novel, now, and I'm glad that it's not very autobiographical at all, because that would bear with it the implication that some truly horrible things have happened in my life, both to me and the people I care about. I'm pretty sure, though, that such a text couldn't ever really be mistaken for autobiographical, in this case, first novel or not.

I was thinking about the whole "write what you know" thing, and when I looked at my novel-in-progress, I started wondering to myself where I got off on attempting to write about things that I certainly hadn't ever experienced myself (like getting involved with government conspiracies or living the life of a billionaire).

When I looked more closely, though, I realized that the things that really held the book together from an emotional point of view (or which, in theory, should hold it together), are themes that I can certainly identify with very closely, like friendship and social acceptance and self-sacrifice. I'd also like to think that readers would be able identify with that, too, and maybe, in a way, that's where the 'meat' of the story comes, in terms of what's thought-provoking and what leaves an impression.

Besides, if we're going to limit ourselves only to things that we know, thennobody would be writing books with gun-toting animal-people having a helicopter chase.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Addition and Subtraction

As I've mentioned, I'm in the middle of redrafting my novel. It's a pretty unique experience, I have to say; I don't feel like I'm writing a new story even if I am writing a lot of new material.

I think that's a good sign. On the other hand, I am putting in a lot of new material, and I'm not even halfway through the main story, yet. There's a lot of action that happens later on in the course of the book, and part of me fears that I might be delaying things from 'happening' by sticking too much in the front; conversely, there's also a lot near the end that I think I'm going to just rip out wholesale (but, then again, I'm probably going to replace it with something else).

It's been pointed out by folks who read my original draft that I have a story that's driven by an ensemble cast. I'm not sure why I tried writing a novel without one single "main" character, but
looking at the story, I think it would be hard to do tell it the same way if I just had a main protagonist (for you videogamey types out there, trying thinking of Final Fantasy VI). With that in mind, I am a little less worried about developing things more thoroughly in the beginning, because I intend it to be an emotional story, and so I want to reader to care about the characters and to understand them and their motivations. It's probably going to be a longer story, and while I don't think that longer necessarily means that something is better, in this case, I think it'll turn out that way.

I'm also surprised by how little preexisting sections need to change in order to account for the more sweeping changes elsewhere. Naturally, there are some major things I do need to change, but comparatively-speaking, I expected that the tweaking would be more extensive. My fundamental story hasn't changed all that much, though, so maybe it makes sense that a lot of what I've already written can stay the same. Perhaps the second half of the redrafting process will see some very different changes, though; I expect that the path to the story's climax will change pretty drastically, and the dénouement and resolution will need to change accordingly.

All in all, it's a rewarding experience, albeit an unusual one that I'm definitely not used to. I'm under the assumption that it's going well, but I don't think I'll know until I'm finished if it's gone as well as it seems to be going now!