Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Process Examination #15: In Which I Finally Hack My Brain (Or a Portion of It, Anyway)

There's more going on here than just looking back at the mess of Act One and realizing why it's 40K long and mostly pretty dry stuff (that would be the logic stranglehold). Now I'm trying to figure out why I can't seem to drag myself on with the novel. I think I pieced together some of it last night.

I fear letting a first draft of a novel be really, really rough. I can't let myself write full-on crap just to get to the end and have a complete story unit to look at, analyze, and perfect into an actual novel. Not at 100K words a pop, at least. With short fiction, this isn't a problem. Take PPR: the original draft of that story was 8K words, and I kept only 2K of them in the revised story, which ended up being 29K total (yes, I finished it Monday night; now to let it alone for a couple of weeks before I tackle the next round of revisions). That's 25% of the original story that stayed, and it comprises only 7% of the current draft. Translate those percentages into the 100K words of a novel's first draft, and yikes! That's a lot of words that get cut and take a while to create in the first place. It doesn't sit right with me to be so wasteful and inefficient with something I have so little time for in as it is.

But I looked closer at the comparison to PPR. Those original 8K were quite rough indeed, in the sense that my big reveal at the end was 2-3 pages of infodump that would have been much more satisfying revealed in the course of the story with my MC getting enough pieces of the puzzle to put some of it together herself. Also, the central conflict needed a good deal of work to make sense beyond my initial sketch. And the two characters in conflict were neither of them likeable, though they were interesting. While it was fun to write that way and part of me wants to see if I can tweak those 8K into a different interpretation than the one I went with, I overhauled the story into something with a good arc, with good character tension each step of the way, with a logical though not transparent plot and narrative flow, and with a complicated ending that didn't make things overly nice and tidy like I'm beginning to hate in some books. For some reason, just because it's a novel, I'm expecting the first draft of THUMB to deliver all of that already. I'm not giving myself permission to fail in order to see how to succeed with this story because that means risking a lot of words and time in creating those words.

How to fix this? I've started this a little. The past 2K of THUMB that I have dragged kicking and screaming out of my fingertips are definitely not going to stay in their present form. It's pretty much all infodumping on my gee-whiz tech in the story, but I wrote it because it provided a chance to get my MC showing her stuff, it led to some fun dialog and character action, and I know I'm going to end up keeping snippets in some fashion because at some point, I'm going to need a "Here's Where I Geek on Future Tech" scene. Today, I'm hoping to grit my teeth and summarize a bunch of activity as my characters get the ship ready to roll so I can finally write the fun piece that officially kicks off the conflict of Act 2. Hopefully I will keep giving myself permission to write outlines and sketches and distillations to keep me moving along.

I think part of the problem has been in trying to hit a word count goal in the first draft of a novel. It keeps me tied into the concept of "this is a lot of words, and I may lose a lot of them." Short fiction has shown me that my first drafts are very exploratory and take as much or as little as they need. And I find it very interesting that THUMB gummed up right around the 35K mark. I think I lasted to about 45K in SoZ before I came up against this wall. That time I forced myself through it, not thinking about the story or what the block could be telling me, and I got thoroughly off-track. There may be a very good reason that my first novel, HD, is told in three parts of about 30-35K a piece over the course of thirty or so years and many critiquers have complained that each part feels like it's trying to be a novel on its own and not part of a whole. A draft beyond 35-45K is outside of my natural comfort zone, apparently. And a draft that actually gets the novel out of Act 1 is problematic, as well, it seems.

I would find this more fascinating and helpful were it not for the fact that it took one complete but very broken novel (100K words) and three aborted attempts at novels (135K words) and myriad pieces of short fiction (hmmm, maybe a total of 100 or 150K?) spread out over five and half years (actually, seven if you count the very first 10K I wrote in HD before I considered myself serious about this writing thing). I don't like taking this long to figure something out, especially if it's about myself (though I have taken longer, and will likely take longer still in the future), and especially if not knowing the piece of information delays events that will get me closer to the dream of writing full-time.

Ah, well. I'm just going to have to get over that, aren't I? At least I did figure it out. Isn't that why I'm doing this series of posts anyway?

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