In this Writing Things series, I talk about the process of
trying to complete slowly, successfully completing my first book.
In writing the 12th book chapter, Crossroads, I had come to a crossroads in my thinking about the story. Maybe it was an act of self-hypnotism: I named the chapter and then the chapter’s name demanded an answer of me: What was I going to do with this second set of characters, really? Where was this story going, exactly? Bardlii and Fenrii are getting more interesting, and I want to keep writing about them… but do they belong in Maeve’s story, at all?
I started this thing a while back as a kind of concept book: multiple intertwined tales that included a causal loop that was somewhat paradoxical. It would be told from different points of view. It would present the notion of multiple protagonists, even though Maeve is the one our telling of this story focuses the most words on. It would say something about interconnectedness and interdependence. It would make an argument for treating our planet wisely, because more than just the fate of our own kind depends upon our doing so; others we have not met yet, and might never meet at all, depend on our ability to grow up pretty fast, and learn how to look after this damn, beautiful little island of ours. I wanted it to be readable, and still challenging.
Since I hadn’t written a book before, maybe I should have started with a novella – maybe about a girl or boy who finds a magic sword in the woods and goes through a door in an old tree and falls in love with a princess or prince and fights an ogre and then becomes king or queen or something. It would be 250 pages, tops, and would leave itself open for sequels. I’d be done already. Maybe it would be good, maybe not. It would be a finished book.
But no… I had to go and bite off all the things I could manage to find in the proverbial fridge: let’s put all the voices and all the characters and all the themes I can stuff into my imagination at once, and try all that. What will that taste like? I bet it’s going to be yummy.
Well. I’ve been here before. When I was younger, I went to animation college to learn how to do old-timey drawn cartoons. I turned every one of my assignments into an epic, thus ensuring that I only passed two-thirds of them in on time. I don’t know what I was trying to prove back then, or to whom. I dropped out after year two – burned out, having lit the match myself. Here we go again.
Whatever. I like Maeve. She’s cool. She’s got a neat family and a mysterious past and she lives on an island and weird things happen around her. Good. My protagonist has their bells and whistles. She’s developed a voice. Maybe she rambles on a bit, but that’s Maeve. Her younger cousin Olive has come to visit. There’s a pattern repeating. I am really excited to see what these two get up to – I have a plan, but I’m now nervous about doing their story a disservice; my hands spend more time hovering over the keys than pounding them, these days. I don’t want to mess up their journey together. Unexpected.
I’m not done learning how to be a better writer. I’m not great right now- I’m OK, but not great. If I stick to it, I will be a great writer. I know it. Right now, I’m still just learning. I’m almost 52 years old, but that doesn’t matter – I just took this long to form my opinions about some things. Now I have opinions worth turning into stories, and that’s something I can work with.
My grammar is OK. My vocabulary is passable. I want to be a writer that uses fairly common and accessible words. I don’t need an impressive vocabulary – I need discipline and faith to use the vocabulary I have. My powers of punctuation are peculiar, I am a little too enamoured with alliteration. I run on and on and on. I’m on the fence about the oxford comma, and it shows.
Why am I saying these things? Well, I really wanted to write my first book out in the open. This means journaling the process and turning the whole thing – plot and people and purpose – inside out, baring as much to whoever might happen by as I can stand to. The book is Creative Commons licensed, the source can be downloaded, the timeline of its evolution can be rummaged through. I am sharing my little creative struggle, for you – and for others I have not met yet, and might never meet at all. For whatever that might be worth.
Here’s what I think about Bardlii and Fenrii’s side of the story, at the moment: Too Wordy! Good golly. I think I’m right about that, too, but I don’t know. There’s a narrative thread here that I like, and the world-building is enjoyable, and their story is meant to intertwine with Maeve’s at some point (and that of the rat – don’t forget the common hooded rat, who is the real protagonist here)… but the voice I’ve chosen to tell their tale is honestly a bit long-winded. It’s too much like my own, when I’m on too much coffee and speculation.
One of the things I like about Maeve is that she rambles on. One beta reader on Royal Road said that Maeve’s stream of consciousness way of speaking is charming in small doses and it’s not possible at this point for the reader to know what matters. Haha. Perfect. I’m writing this book for people who will enjoy Maeve in larger-than-small doses, I think. Maybe that’s a niche market. This is OK. I can’t imagine taking much of Maeve out of Maeve’s story, at this point. I gave it to her to tell, and that’s how she began.
Talking about a made-up character as though they were real, and separate from myself would have seemed like a weird idea to me before I started all of this, but I’m starting to understand how that happens. Maeve is a voice in my own head. That’s what all of our characters are: voices to speak our opinions or speculations. Once I found Maeve, while sifting through my own opinions, experiences, and imagination, I had also found a distinct voice there.
This voice has a lifespan, as it turns out, which I find kind of wonderful. Maeve’s voice was different when she was two, and it changed as she grew up, and it will be different still when she is older than I am now. This is still a voice in my own head, but one that grows up in accelerated time, as I attempt to uncover it.
Anyhow, having a protagonist who is already pretty chatty means a lot of the book already has a lot of words, and run-on expressions, and divergent trains of thought.
Then, we add this voice of the narrator, telling us about Bardlii from the Allegoriian Isles, and… well, it’s also kind of wordy and rambling. AND with footnotes! Good golly, again. I think this means the pace of the story might not vary enough, or something. The reader might need breaks, in a story with several voices. I think, if I were a reader of this, I’d want those breaks from Maeve to have more breathing room in them, or something.
This is my current thought, anyway. I’m uncertain how much to second-guess what I’m doing right now, because I feel what I’m doing right now is just writing a first draft, in front of people. So, maybe this isn’t the stage to begin undoing things and starting over. But what I’m currently thinking about is restarting Bardlii and Fenrii’s narrative – or just going at it with a hatchet, and chopping it way down. Or finding another narrative voice to tell it. It’s hard to say, because I’m on the inside, looking out. I don’t know what the story’s rough draft looks like to a reader, at this early stage.
I’d like to ask for your honest opinion, if you’d honestly like to share it. I want this story to be enjoyable to people, more than I want it to be right the first time. I’ve already thrown out (or at least, temporarily shelved) many pages of material written in the past for this thing, and maybe I’m not done doing that, and I suppose that’s perfectly OK. I only get one shot at pushing publish on what I will consider the “finished” version, so the lead-up to that is my chance to do my best. I’ve always known that I’ve wanted that process of doing my best to involve other people’s imaginations too.
So here’s my ask, for anybody who has followed the story to this point (and thank you for doing that! That’s very wonderful of you!): Typos and necessary tightening-ups notwithstanding, what do you think about the second narrative, which appears every fourth chapter, involving Bardlii Noonstar? Are you as interested, more interested, or less interested in following that story, than following Maeve’s? If you found yourself at a crossroads, and could only follow one of them from here, which would it be – or would you want to follow both, or else neither at all?