So. I have my 240,000-word trilogy Of Evernost in a depressingly boring first draft. I have to keep reminding myself: it was supposed to be bad, it had to be bad if it was ever going to be done.
I’ve revamped the structure in my head. I’m provisionally getting rid of two novellas (there were nine originally, three per volume) I find questionably relevant and/or repetitive. The remaining novellas I hope to recombine into four longer volumes, each of which focuses on a different character.
During Week One, at the end of August, I rewrote the first few pages, tacked on an exciting but dense introduction that may remain or may be incorporated into the text in (one hopes) an organic way. The process is exciting but also stressful and exhausting—especially since it’s more about creating than destroying—to be melodramatic—or, to be less melodramatic, about coming up with new ways to make things interesting, convincing, and engaging while solving problems rather than about simply eliminating what doesn’t work. Still, not as bad as I feared it would be, in that it is exciting and I seem to be able to make myself do it. (These things have not always been true of me and revision.)
However, I’m struggling with larger issues.
For one thing, the volume I’m working on right now deals with huge subjects too quickly and dully (there was a disastrous communist revolution, for one thing) because I really don’t care about politics and war. I don’t know whether I should do the research and imagining to treat these things in depth, or whether I can let them be the vague backdrop to my character’s struggles (she plays a crucial role in them, but she doesn’t get personally involved in the nitty-gritty), in which case perhaps I can even diminish the place they fill.
As a result of these massive semi-structural misgivings, I’ve spent the last two days making an outline of the events in the story and want to see if I can plan in advance places where I need to fill in and deepen the story (I can’t tell whether this is stalling and to be condemned or whether it’s a crucial process I should have started long ago). My next step, based on a suggestion in the Gardner book (On Becoming a Novelist), is to write a synopsis of the thing, so I can fit the whole story into my head emotionally. Perhaps I’ll try to define what my main character wants, a la the Rule of Writing that all stories are about what happens when a character wants something very badly and tries to get it, to see, at the least, where I diverge from that formula. (I’m fairly sure my character wants several things very badly and they come into conflict, for one thing :p).
For another, I have a few contradictory, or, at least, seemingly-contradictory ideas of what I want this story (and Of Evernost as a whole) to be. I have, at various times, imagined
- putting a great deal of effort into capturing the textures of different characters’ individual consciousnesses
- letting the characters slip in and out of a larger identity that is sort of mine and sort of Everywoman’s
- incorporating rich symbolism (cringe at the mechanical nature of this if you must—I’ve read more than once that symbolism should be avoided unless it emerges organically from the writing, but heck, as I’ve probably made painfully obvious, I love Hawthorne and Melville, who are thick with really obviously signaled symbols, and couldn’t care less about slice-of-life realism); I have a list of 100 Significant Images I hope to incorporate in some fashion
- detailing the complex workings of a secondary world
1 and 2 do not seem easily compatible, and 3 and 4 seem (in some of my moods, at least) nearly impossible to integrate, because 4 is full of literal strangeness and 3 requires that most strangeness be interpreted metaphorically; I suppose “seeing a successful resolution of 3 vs. 4” is one reason to keep reading the Divine Comedy, which in addition to being (according to one professor) the first science fiction is also an allegory.
I may spend the next few days in this stepping-back-and-examining phase, and I wish I knew whether it was just spinning my wheels.