Friday, March 19, 2010

[Book Update] Monster Chapter

I'm currently working on Chapter 14. Though, technically, I may actually be working on Chapter 15 also, since it's starting to pile on the page count. This is, among other things, a fantasy novel so of course it has monsters in it. However up until this point, the monsters have primarily been on the periphery. We've seen them a few times, usually only very briefly, and the rest of the time they were more of an implied threat than a literal conflict for the characters.

In the last couple of chapters, however, things have exploded a bit, monsterwise. And now that I think of it, exploded is a pretty good word for it.

Some of the things I need to make sure I get right are the pace of the book and the characterization of the monsters. I'm not sure how many pages into the book I am (because my chapters are all split into separate Word documents which I've never put all together, and also because I don't have them formatted for submission right now), but most of my chapters average around 9 double-spaced pages, which makes me think I'm about 120 pages into the book. I dive right in with combat against multiple enemies, then pull back a bit for some character development, and then charge ahead into full-scale battle. When I think of it in those high-level terms, the pace sounds about right. It's one of those things that's going to be hard to gauge until I've got a good, solid second-draft in my hands, but it feels good to me so far. If I waited too long to get to the big action though, I'm going to have a problem. Because cutting anything in the earlier chapters is going to feel a bit like yanking a card from the bottom of a house of cards. There's so much interdependence and so much information that the reader needs to understand that it would be hard to do it. I will if I have to, but it's going to be tedious, frustrating and difficult to find just the right parts to axe.

The other topic is a bit easier, if no less important. I'm already aware that of the first two types of adversaries that I introduced (or, you could make an argument for two or even three types pretty easily), I did not do a good job of making them seem more like generic forces meant to challenge the protagonist, give him something interesting to do, and drive the plot. What I haven't done is decide whether that's necessarily a bad thing. After all, those adversaries actually are there more to grab the reader's attention and let us see the hero in action than to make a name for themselves in the annals of fantasy. Still, it feels like a cheat to me so I may decide to go back and do something about it. Some of those initial adversaries are by now presumed dead and don't necessarily have a bigger role in the rest of the story - they came onstage, did their thing, and now they're gone - but one of them did. That one, though, is deliberately kept rather vague because I don't want to shout out right away "this is the kind of book this is." Because in some important ways it's NOT the kind of book it would look like, but it's way, way too soon to get into that in the first five chapters. So, instead, I only hint at first, then suggest, then finally confirm. I likely won't be doing any character developement there - it's just not the right place for it.

Where I absolutely do need it, though, is in the Chapter 14/15 area. There's a pitched battle going on there, with an all new enemy that we've effectively just met for the first time. They're also just sort of passing through the story, but they're too big a plot device to be allowed to come off flat and 2-dimensional. I'm not worrying much about it on the initial pass - my rough draft, if you will - but before I consider the chapter to be "done" I'll need to go back and make sure I touch up the portrait of these monsters so it leaps out at the reader and becomes a realistic, believable, possibly even sympathetic sort of creature. Probably not very sympathetic, but enough that they aren't just a band of villains doing villainous things for villainous reasons all for the sake of keeping their Villains International membership cards up to date. That's boring and unworthy of a good monster. Or a bad monster. Or any sort of well-written monster.

Sadly, I did not get these chapters done this week as I'd hoped because today has to be a freaking Superintendent's Conference Day. Gah! Don't these kids ever have school?? And the weekend's ridiculously busy, so I'm not sure when I'll get to work on it again. I can't wait to see how the battle turns out, though!

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