Tuesday, March 30, 2010

[Book Update] March Wrap-Up


My wife is traveling on business, so I'm home with the kids. The last time she had to travel was about six week ago, during the week-long Winter Break. This meant that the kids were home with me all day, which should have made it harder, but it turns out to be the opposite. You see, this week I'm still trying (and expecting) to get work done, but I'm also having to help with homework, make lunches in the morning, wrangle school papers, and cram dinner in before it's time to get the kids into bed. To further complicate matters, this is "Turn off the TV Week." And I have to give my kids a ton of credit on this (at least so far). During any other week, you'd swear that they're multimedia addicts - they're perpetually watching TV or playing Wii or playing games on the computer. They hardly ever go outside to play, and virtually never just sit and read or play. Yet this week, I made it clear that all such devices were to be turned OFF, and they've adapted almost without complaint. They're playing, reading, spending tons of time outside - everything kids ought to be doing in their free time. Still, they do need a little more of my attention than they otherwise would. It's all a bit dizzying.

Last night, I took it a step further. I attempted to make a good, healthy dinner. My sons will eat chicken as long as it's nuggeted. But try to hand them a real drumstick and they'll flee in terror. Well, last night I decided we were having a mandatory chicken dinner. I also made home fries and frozen corn. Everybody had to eat. It wasn't required that they clean their plates, but they had to put in a real effort at it. It basically worked, but creating the meal (it was oven-fried chicken, so I had to dredge it in crushed, spiced corn flakes and then bake it), enforcing the mandate and then cleaning up took over three hours. We read some books and got everybody stuffed into bed, but now this morning it feels like no time at all since I was loading up the dishwasher. Tonight the dinner will be simpler. It has to be - we've got Karate. Ugh!

Still, I did get some work done yesterday. I got tons of feedback about my "infodump" chapter - chapter 6 - when I took it to my writer's group. The result is a total re-write, pulling a character previously not introduced until chapter 13 all the way up to chapter 6, and then using his knowledge and experiences to drive the infodump. I may still need to "dump" some of the info into other chapters, plus I'll need to do something about the page or two that I ripped from chapter 13, but overall I think I like the way this is going. That's major change #1.

Major change #2 is that I've decided to create a new chapter 1. It will go ahead of all existing chapters, which will need to be renumbered. A process which, incidentally, is a royal pain in the nuts. I decided that it was less cumbersome to keep my chapters split into separate Word documents and generally speaking I stand by that decision. It makes it easy to track version control on a chapter-by-chapter basis because I simply save a new copy of any chapter that I edit and I put the current date in the filename. It's really easy to see what chapters are new, and how long it's been since the last time a particular chapter was updated. BUT, it means that a major renumbering will involve editing the filename and footer of more than a dozen separate files.

So why bother, you might wonder? Well, a couple of reasons. One I can attribute to one particular reader who seems to be fixated on S.M. Stirling's works. This reader mentioned that series to me on the very first night we met, almost a year ago, and I mentioned at the time that I'd read it. Clearly it's much on his mind. Yet every time he critiques my book, he mentions how "this is just like Stirling's "Dies the Fire" series.

Well, folks, it ain't. We both take a "what if" approach wherein we ask "What would happen if X occurred." And then we both answer that question by saying "I believe that modern civilization would collapse, resulting in many small, fortified agricultural communities subsisting at a pre-industrial-era level." But while our answer is similar, the "what if" question we're answering is as different as can be, and the worlds that result from our approach to that question are, likewise, so different that they bear virtually no resemblance.

Still, he brings it up every time. And while I'm confident that the similarities are superficial at best, I have to wonder - will I run into agents and editors out there with the same tunnel-vision on this topic? It might be beneficial to write on a submission form that my novel might appeal to people who like Stirling's work, but it's not going to be beneficial at all if I keep running into people who decide in the first chapter that "This is a rip-off of Stirling" or McCarthy's post-apocalyptic "The Road" or the Mel Gibson classic "Road Warrior."

So I said to myself, "I can fix this. Easily, in fact." I just have to be a bit less circumspect. I had planned to unveil some of the really unique aspects of my world in dribs and drabs over time. Start off slow with things that are familiar to the reader - things he or she can grasp easily and relate to. Then WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! start lashing out with revelations that show just how crazy things are in this world. I'm still going to do that, but I'm going to pull one WHAM! forward into chapter 1. It's not even a huge WHAM! in the grand scheme of things, but it's going to establish right up front that this isn't just a post-apocalyptic nightmare type of book. It's a post-apocalyptic FANTASY nightmare type of book, and that's a totally different ball of wax. Some of the more fantastical elements already appeared as early as chapter 3 in the current version of my manuscript (which is part of my incredulity when my reader keeps telling me "This is just like Stirling!" and I keep saying "There are no bloody monsters in Stirling's world. At all! And I show some big ones in chapter frigging 3!"

Anyway, if it were just a matter of wanting to put a stop to "Dies the Fire" comparisons (unfavorable ones, anyway. I'd be very flattered if people were just saying "this is in the same league as Stirling's work"), I probably wouldn't be making the change I'm making. But there's one even more vital consideration that worries me a bit. Action. Currently, chapters 1 and 2 have minimal action. Chapters 3-5 are pretty action-heavy. Then chapters 6-12 have almost no action at all. One option would actually be to slide this new chapter in as, say, Chapter 8 or 9. It's very much a standalone chapter and it could work there, too. I may even go that route, but right now my plan is to put this into chapter 1 and really kick the book into action mode right at the start. I think the lull between major action-oriented events will be a lot more tolerable if I pile on a bit more in the beginning, and it turns out that I think this chapter makes the start of the book much stronger anyway.

Today I got probably 1/3 of the chapter 6 re-write done. It's tough because I'm interweaving new stuff with stuff from at least two other chapters. Once chapter 6 is done, I believe I'll go ahead and write the new chapter 1. Lastly, I've given a lot of thought to my first real "battle chapters," which are 14 and 15, and I've come up with some changes that will make them much better. One may be a complete point of view shift, but regardless they need major re-writes. So that will come next. Grand total - three chapters torn down and rebuilt. New material - one chapter. This is a ton of work which will actually result in only a single additional chapter beyond what I had at the end of last week. That's a tad discouraging, since I really really need this book's draft manuscript done before the kids finish the school year and right now that ain't even close to happening. But it is what it is - no sense in writing the book if I'm not going to do it right, so my job right now is to get these chapters right. Then I can move on to chapter 16 (which, by then, will actually be chapter 17) and finish off the first big battle.


No comments:

Post a Comment