Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Knowing When Enough Is Enough

Status update:  Outlining done, but a bit behind. No worries. Coffee supplies plentiful.

The next Bo story is in the cooker even as I type this. It's about company off-sites, team-building exercises, flair, competition. There's a hint of a Dark Metaplot looming that, if you payed attention to the right spots of the last story, you will see signs of. And you meet Jeff and the rest of Bo's co-workers. This story sees the return of the Mayhew and some extremely vicious killer geese.

Even though I don't have more than a fairly detailed outline at the moment, I expect this one to go very, very quickly once I start writing. Bo stories pretty much tell themselves. Partly because they don't tend to be very complex and partly because I enjoy writing them.

But enough of that. I've been thinking of my first novel a bit lately.

Everyone who writes has a first novel. In fact, there's probably an analog in any creative art. Your first painting. Your first attempt at a new recipe. But I digress. They--and I mean the nebulous they that everyone refers to when they don't want to take the time to dig up sources--always say that you should make an effort to finish your first novel. Pour your heart, your hopes and your dreams into it. Fan it into life, make it everything that expresses who you are as a writer. Go through the good times and slog through the hard times. Push through to the very end and finish it. Take a deep breath and bask in the glow of Being An Author. Then print it out and bury it in the backyard and start writing your second novel.

Because your first novel will probably suck, that's why.

Mine was no exception. I decided to pick up writing again last year because I just needed more in my life. I needed an outlet for my creative bits outside of my work, something more than the daily grind to look forward to. Hell, something even more than the daily grind of my social life, too. Even though I really don't think of hanging out with friends as "work", as such. I just needed something else than the day-to-day.

So, I did the natural thing, the thing that most people do when they decide to Become A Writer. They start a novel. I jumped into it, fanned up an idea I'd gotten some time back when I was running regularly. It's all about crime-fighting kids and mad science. The idea's pretty great and I definitely plan on revisiting it.


I started out relatively fast the weeks wore daily writing rate slowed. I started out (this was before I got into my current groove of fast writing) at around 900 words per hour. Then it was 700. Then I was happy with 600. Finally, I was banging out 300 words per hour.

And then I realized that entire chapters were beginning to pass by without much happening in them. Characters would stand around doing the fictional equivalent of clearing their throats and whistling tunelessly. The parts where things "popped' and action happened became fewer and fewer between.

The book was developing some serious issues.

So, around the one-third mark, I decided to take a break and write a short story instead. Hence, this blog.

Looking back on it, I made the right call. There's something to be said for sticking with a project, seeing it all the way through. Pounding through the hard parts. If everybody stopped when the going got tough, then nothing really worthwhile would ever be done. The Hoover Dam, for example, was probably pretty awful to work on. Boiling hot desert heat, people dropping left and right from heat exhaustion. Lots of heavy things to lift. You get the idea. If the workforce all decided to say "this is for the birds" and took off, we wouldn't have that monument to modern engineering.

But there are also things you work on where you've gone so far afield, so far off track that you have to realize that dumping more effort into it will get you nowhere. Great, you've decided to make the first skyscraper out of snow cones and cotton candy. After floor one, you might realize that your plan has some flaws. Adding more floors is not going to help you at all. You have to regroup and have a good think about why and how you're doing something.

And the sooner you identify projects like that and stop dumping time into them, the better.

My story had issues that were bugging me on a level that I was too involved with to notice. I was too close to the project to see them. There was not enough plot there for an entire novel, for one thing. The plot for the book which I had planned should have been compressed to chapters one to three and then some serious stakes-raising should've happened.

There were some redundant characters. The best character of the book should have been there almost from the beginning. The main character was not driven enough to do what I wanted him to do--he needed more demons.

Mostly, I was getting bored writing it. And if the WRITER is getting bored, how the heck is a READER going to feel about it? Unless said reader has very low standards for entertainment (and you should never write for such an audience deliberately), that's a sign of a problem.

In this case, the best decision I could make was to give up. At least for a while.

Now that I've been spending so much time on shorter format fiction, I think I'm in a place where I could create a much better novel. I'm much better with plotting in advance. I'm more likely to put characters in a bad place for the sake of a good story. And I tend to cram more detail and action into things. I don't really write simply to put words down on paper anymore since I'm more about plot milestones than verbage, per se.

So, yet another example of the Brutal Art Of Useful Failure. Back to the world of Bo.

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