Tuesday, January 12, 2010

[Book Update] My Novel

The story of the story so far

I haven’t written one of these since I finished the storyline back before Christmas. There’s a reason for that – I basically got nothing much done on it over the holidays. I knew this was going to happen. In part it was deliberate – it was the holidays and I was relaxing and spending time doing stuff with the family. In part it was unavoidable – the kids were home from school with me all day, which absolutely precludes me getting any writing done. Maybe some people could write while the kids run around and raise hell, but not me.

So between December 24th and January 3rd, the novel-writing machine was asleep, snoring softly and occasionally muttering something that almost sounded useful, but then rolling over and dozing on. I was getting pretty antsy to get back to work by the time the Christmas break was over, as I’d made such good progress before the holidays and I wanted to see it continue.

It didn’t. I was in a real groove before Christmas, churning out some good prose and also mastering important stuff like the storyline. It felt good to look back on what I’d done at the end of each day and be impressed with myself. It’s still not the 5,000 words a day I had hoped I’d be able to crank out, but it was good, solid, useful writing.

But I’d gotten to a point where chapters 1-4 were pretty much how I wanted them, chapter 5 was 90% done, and chapters 6 & 7 were each somewhere around 30% complete, give-or-take. Chapter 6 was actually more like 50% and chapter 7 was probably like 20% done back on January 4th. But throughout that week, I didn’t really make a ton of progress on either of them.

I spent Monday trying to get back into that groove, but I ended up reviewing the chapters I’d written so far, instead. This is a useful habit I’ve gotten into, where I periodically re-read what I’ve written and edit it for word choice, clarity, consistency, or anything else I find that’s wrong. The other useful thing I did on Monday was to begin (but in true Mike-fashion not actually complete) a bulleted list breaking down the major plot points of each chapter. This is helpful for two reasons –

1. I can refer to it when I can’t remember the timeframe when something was covered, or whether X happened before or after Y.

2. It lets me hunt down a passage more quickly when I need to know how I handled something before. If I’m writing about a character, I may need to go back, for example, and review how I wrote their accent or how they were dressed.

Ideally a lot of this information should be getting added to each character’s own page in my notes, but I quickly discovered that I could either write my book or I could keep copious and detailed notes about my book for easy reference, but I can’t really do both. Every time I write more of the book, or change something I wrote before, the notes immediately become out of date. Aaargh. So, my book is incomplete, my chapter-by-chapter summary list is incomplete and my notes are incomplete. But at least I’m working on completing the book – the other two are optional.

Tuesday and Wednesday actually were spent working on chapters 5, 6 and 7, which are very related and which I decided all needed hefty revision in parts. So while I added some new prose mid-week, I also cut out some stuff that I’d written previously. However by Thursday I think I had chapter 5 pretty well locked down (with a possible exception that I’ll get to below). Thursday I had a nasty headache that just wouldn’t go away. I still got some work done, but not as much as I’d hoped I would.

Then you can scratch Friday off the list, because I volunteered at my son’s school in the morning and then went to see Daybreakers – my work-day was pretty well shot. I did manage to write some good stuff on Saturday. Again, nothing that will immediately find a home in the book, but it’s backstory written in prose (which is how I write a lot of my backstory – it’s just how I think when I’m in storyteller mode) that will at minimum inform the story and at best may actually be usable somewhere later in the novel. Or perhaps in the "Encyclopedia of Mike's Novel" to be published later and then snapped up by my legions of adoring fans after the book's an international phenomenon. Or something.

By the time this week rolled around, there were some ups and downs. On the down side, I was disappointed at my progress last week. On the plus side, I felt like I kind of had my groove back, or at least could feel it coming back, which boded well for the week ahead.

Then I spent Monday morning furiously writing, producing a neat little chunk of around 1500 (update: I ended up going back later and it topped out above 3,000) words or so. This would be great, except that it was all backstory that may or may not ever make it into the novel. When I sat down on Monday to write, I considered for a moment that there was a particular group in my book who were to be major adversaries, and there was a particular item that was important to both them and to the novel’s protagonists. However the whys and wherefores of this group and this item “predate” the novel – that is to say that things are already in motion when the novel begins. I knew where this group and this item needed to end up, but without knowing their history – their origin – I wasn’t sure how to introduce them and get them moving on their way. So I wrote an origin. Say goodbye to Monday morning – origin story: written. Actual text added to novel: none.

And that brings me to Monday afternoon. Time to write new text for chapters 6 & 7, you say? Whoa there, not so fast! You see, at the end of chapter 5 I introduced one of the major locations in the book. My original intent was that this location and its people were dirty, downtrodden, pathetic, disorganized, and generally in disheveled, piteous condition. Whoops! That’s not how I actually wrote it, though. I was so busy moving the story along, having the characters interact, and narrating a history of both the location and the world around it that I forgot to make it all crappy. It’s literally too nice a place and needs to be wrecked. So Monday afternoon, meet Mike the Wrecking Ball. I’d even made myself a nice list of adjectives over the weekend that I could use to de-spruce the place and its people:

scruffy, dingy, dust-covered, rusty, dirt-encrusted, stained, dented, scuffed, slovenly, warped, beaten, stripped, rotted, cracked, crumbled, uneven, crooked, rat-infested, filthy, tarnished, crusty, dirty, ripped, torn, rent, soiled, dusty, fusty, musty, putrid, rotten, decayed, deteriorated, creaking, sooty, acrid, grimy, foul, sullied, polluted, grubby, muddy, defiled, unclean, dull, cloudy, listless, soggy, broken, split, splintered, spoiled, smashed, crumpled, messy, unkempt, shabby, untidy, disheveled, fetid, damp, stale, stuffy, rancid, pungent, foul, sorry, weary, dilapidated, sad, run-down, used-up, wrecked,  condemned, unsound, leaning, slanting, beshitted (I like that one!), clogged, grungy, gunked up, dismantled.

Hah! I thought up a few more while I was writing this. Blogging suddenly becomes vaguely useful!

So the tally for the week thus far – origin story completed. De-sprucification of the town underway. Sorry, townspeople, your home just became a much shittier place to live. But the place that the protagonist goes later on will look MUCH better by comparison, so take solace in that, if you can. The groove? It’s back! Time to get writing. I need to figure out whether chapter 6 is going to go or stay or change completely, but I don’t know if I’ll do that just now. I want to find out what happens next!

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