Friday, June 11, 2010

[Book Update] Closer and Closer

For the last couple of months, I've mostly felt off-kilter with my novel.

Let me explain. I was making good, forward progress for quite some time. I was banging out 1.5 chapters a week (or 3 chapters every two weeks) for a couple of months. It felt good - write a chapter, make a few little tweaks, and move on to the next chapter. BANG - BANG - BANG. One after the next.

Then I got myself side-tracked. I'm not complaining. I'm not second-guessing. I'm not even saying I shouldn't have done it, because it did need to be done. I desperately needed to fix Chapter 6, which was a crucial chapter for me in that it was where I had chosen to make a stand and say "By this point in the novel, my readers need to clearly understand X, Y, and Z about the setting, or they're going to get mad and wander off." So in Chapter 6 I had done what's called an "Infodump" - providing vast amounts of information without necessarily adding much to the action, the plot, or the character development of the story. You don't often need infodumps in mainstream fiction - everybody can pretty well imagine what life is like for a character of [insert gender] and [insert age] and [insert profession] who lives in [insert location] and is friends/spouses/lovers/related to [insert other characters] and has a problem of [insert conflict/dramatic tension]. But when you're telling a story that's most easily classified as "post-apocalyptic urban fantasy" (and note: I didn't say it WAS easily classified, just that that was the most easy classification), you have to do a lot of work to help your reader understand how different things really are from anything they've ever seen or experienced.

But I got a lot of complaints from my test-readers about that chapter being too much like a history book. I rewrote it, eventually splitting it into two chapters. But each of those chapters had a ripple effect on the parts I'd already written. The first chapter, which I've creatively titled Chapter 6b, borrowed a character from later in the book and introduced him much earlier. I brought his backstory forward, added a companion character so he could interact more through dialogue, and gave him a more prominent role. It ended up being the first part of a 3-chapter arc with that character (two of which are written so far).

The second chapter, which you might imagine correctly is titled Chapter 6c (for now), introduced a couple of character who were never intended to be anything but historical footnotes - they would originally have been mentioned by name and referred to by their deeds, but never actually entered the story as players - primarily because they lived fifty years before the beginning of the story's main action. One of these characters, a farmer named Luke, played a big role in the establishment of the setting where the first half of the novel takes place. He also ended up having himself a 3-chapter story arc (all three of which are now written).

So, if you count those up, there's six extra chapters that I either never intended to write or never intended to put in the places in the story where they ended up. As a result, everything else got shoved around and I was obliged to rework many of the existing 15 (or so) chapters, or at least most of the ones that followed the original Chapter 6. As of today I have reworked all of the existing chapters 7-13, and added one or two new ones in there that didn't exist before. I've also written a new Chapter 16, which finishes the arc I began in Chapter 6c. So, at long last, all I've got left is to make re-writes to chapters 14 and 15 and I'm finally caught up. Finally, I'll be in a position to move forward once again, which feels pretty darn good.

I'm very happy with the way the new and altered chapters worked out, don't get me wrong. I have absolutely no regrets about the time I put into working on them. But it never felt like I was moving the story ahead - it felt like I was stuck at the beginning of the story and unable to advance past it. I've got a big story to tell and I want to get to it. Soon, at last, I think I'll be able to. At the very least, I'm getting closer.

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