A daily fight

Just a single thought tonight. It seems like every day, I trip over something else about writing a novel I hadn’t considered, or somehow¬†sheds light on a problem in a way I couldn’t exactly see before. Sometimes this is nothing but helpful, and I have one of those aha moments where it makes sense and I’m ready to get my hands dirty. Other times however, the new insight feels like a punch to the gut. It has brought to light a problem so big, it requires structural changes to the story or a tremendous amount of thought I hadn’t expected.

I suppose as my head spins from one such revelation, today’s take away has been that writing a novel is not a matter of just stringing together events, people, and description. Sure, these are all part of it, but it’s not the sort of thing that can just be dashed out with the expectation of having something anyone would invest the time to read. I could go on about this, but not tonight. I’m tired. Perhaps more later.

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I refuse to call it stuck

Last night I stayed up fighting with a new and totally unexpected chapter, #14. I had imagined chapter 13 going in a particular direction, but I got to the end of a sentence and realized that was the end of it. It was time for a new scene, new setup and the whole nine-yards. I wasn’t expecting to go that way. Now, I’ve got an idea of where I want this chapter to go, but it actually has to become a chapter in it’s own right instead of being the end to a chapter. I have a setting, a few highlights in my mind about what things look like, and also a notion of how it ends.
What I’m struggling with is how to escalate the situation so that the beginning of the chapter gets to the end I am aiming for. Here’s the basic situation, the main characters* have chosen to navigate around an enemy fortress using an ancient, mysterious network of caves**. The caves are, ostensibly, safe providing they don’t go too deep. I can approach this in one of two ways. The first is, I think, the ‘too easy’ approach. In this scenario, the caves are not actually safe. Not only is this an easy thing for me, the writer, it also sets up something of an impossible situation for the characters, necessitating an easy out. Another approach is to have the characters take a wrong turn. I like this idea because it continues a theme of the know-it-all character’s imperfect knowledge. Also, if stuck in a system of caves with an imperfect memory of how to get through them, you’re basically assured to take a wrong turn. This also sets up a fight and a chase which will get the characters to the end of the chapter in exactly the manner I’m planning. Hiving spit all that out, the second choice seems like the logical direction.

With that, I think I’m off. Well, after I sort out chickens and ducks, and go to a super-bowl party. On the bright side, it’s apparently warmed up from around 0F to above freezing, so that’s nice.

* There are three
** This sounds silly as I write it, actually. Not only does it sound cliche, it’s also sort of convenient. I’m sticking with it though, because I need these for later chapters/books. Perhaps the trick to making this work is to make these relevant to the story and world somehow.

Starting in the right place

I’ve been struggling with the first chapter of my story for some time, not the prologue, but the first-chapter proper. Part of the reason for this is that it was a breakthrough chapter for me when I wrote it, although it took me a long time to realize that. It had initially been a part of a different character’s back-story, and when I made it the starting point for my story, a lot of stuff started clicking into place. As a result, I was rather married to the first iteration of it. Then, I asked some friends to read it, they all said the same thing: It really doesn’t work with the rest of the story. It wasn’t that it didn’t fit the plot, it was the tone and direction that first chapter seemed to set out that wasn’t working. So, I revised it. The feedback I got on that was better, more along the lines of, this works way better, but it needs a lot of polishing. That felt better in terms of review and ego, but the chapter still doesn’t, in fact, work with the rest of the story. There are a lot of reasons for this, it still has vestigial bits and pieces from the original chapter so it has an uneven tone. The main character is still also not defined well enough, of course this causes other problems moving forward, there’s also a bit of that plausibility issue as well. So, I’ve decided to make another crack at it. This is largely because having that chapter so rough bothers me. I want it to be the best chapter of the book. It really needs to be if I expect anyone to actually pick it up.

I spent a lot of time today avoiding writing, not because I didn’t want to, but because I was letting this problem stew in my mind. Finally, I spent an hour working on the first couple of paragraphs (this is almost always a bad sign for me, unless there’s another real distraction in the room). After re-reading what I’d puked out, my conclusion: It’s worse than what I started with, hardly fixes the original plausibility problems, and really doesn’t even read well. So what am I going to do?

I have come to the conclusion the story starts in the wrong place. I’m actually not far, I think, I just need to step back to events fifteen minutes before the original start. At the beginning, I’ve got my character running through the woods, which I think is a really good idea, but it makes life difficult for establishing the setting properly, because I’m neck deep in action. I mean, this can be done, but I’m not quite skilled enough to pull it off. What this is going to do is give me a couple of sentences for setting, which is relevant to the larger story, though quite subtle, and then launch into the action more naturally. It will also stretch the action out a little so that when the main character has to give up the chase, it’ll feel less jarring. I’m super-optimistic about this change, so hopefully it’s what I need to help me launch chapter 1 so it’s every bit as great as I expect it to be.