Book One, Update Two

Post ImageI’m still surprised I made it as far as I did last year on the first draft of the manuscript. Back when I made my 2009 New Year Resolutions, I promised myself I’d finish the first draft by year’s end. And, back in January 2009, I actually thought that might happen. After all, I was already in my second month of writing and had a vast, expanse of time ahead of me. Twelve whole months! What couldn’t be done in twelve whole months?

Little did I know I’d be starting over during the year and wouldn’t begin writing again until August 1. Finishing a first draft by year’s end seemed mathematically impossible. NaNoWriMo helped me make up some serious time. By the end of the writing year (December 21) the draft hit 122,475 words. (I know that word counts can be a bit difficult to grasp: click here for a few reference points).

I didn’t begin writing again until January 5, when I added a whopping 159 words. The next day I did barely better, adding only 310 words. In short, things were getting pathetic: a far cry from NaNoWriMo days where my daily average was over 2,200 words. (And my most productive day was 7,453 words. Ahhhh, those were the days.)

The Heart of the Matter

The only thing more incredible than writing 122k words is writing 122k words without the slightest hint of a plot. About halfway through December, I changed the subtitle of the book to A Series of Uninteresting Events. The first draft was never intended to be close to a final anything. The characters are flat, which is okay. The imagery is weak; also okay. And I’ve held back on the frilly adjectives simply to make it through an entire story, which I could then go back and dress up later.

A particular someone I know is fond of making analogies to homebuilding. But there’s a good reason for that: building is a fundamental thing we humans do and building houses is easy for anyone to grasp. To use a homebuilding analogy for the book, think of my outline and synopsis as a blueprint. The first draft is the foundation and framing. At the end of this draft you have a pretty good idea of its shape, its purpose, and what the end product will look like. But it still needs drywall and paint and trim.

A solid frame without any paint and trim would be a terrible home. Similarly, a home with lots of nice paint and trim but a lousy foundation and frame would never be a place to live. A good book, like a good house, needs it all: it must be good through and through.

But when I wrote my 122,955th word on January sixth I realized the foundation and frame weren’t coming together. The book was more like a tunnel, aimlessly plowing into a mountain without any real purpose. I had to stop and rethink things. So I did something crazy over the weekend.

Something Crazy

What did I do? I started a second book. What? You heard me. And actually, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. What I began writing was a prequel, for lack of a better term. I realized that for the current story to come together I had a few too many unknowns to deal with. My synopsis simply didn’t have the detail I needed to explain what was happening. So I picked a character mentioned in the story, but not part of the story, and made him the first-person narrator in the prequel. In one day I wrote 34 pages, over 7,000 words, mapping out important pieces of the backstory in the detail I finally needed. It changed a lot: and in a good way. It was just what I needed.

It’s not done, of course, and I’ll likely never “finish” it. It’s simply an exercise. But a good one, and something I never saw coming. But in hindsight it makes sense. Because until I get down to the details, my brain just can’t properly formulate all the story elements. I have to create conversations and make people walk around. The bird’s eye view doesn’t work for me.

If all goes well, by the “Update Three” post my “Book Zero” will be behind me, my plot wall smashed down, and the first draft completed. If all goes really well, that will be long before December.

5 Responses to “Book One, Update Two”

Tami said
January 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

I haven’t forgotten you, and I still intend to uphold my end of the informal email bargain, good sir!

If you ever need encouragement to write, you know where to find me. =]

I hit a big road block with editing/revising my own manuscript and decided to take Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course. She’s got such fantastic free advice on her site, I couldn’t help but assume the class would be worth the money. It certainly seems to be so far!

Good luck with your own manuscripts. =]

TexasDeb said
January 12, 2010 at 9:41 am

Whole lotta writin’ going on and that, as some lady once said, is a good thing.

Your story is looking for you and trying to find you, now that you are also so actively looking for it the two of you are sure to meet up.

[Doesn’t fit your house building analogy but I don’t know squat about construction. Lost and found I get.]

Quix said
January 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I bet it’s refreshing to just start a new baby project – no pressure on finishing, just write write write….

You are making me look bad :). I must get on either reading or writing this week and log my hours until it becomes a habit.

“Your story is looking for you and trying to find you, now that you are also so actively looking for it the two of you are sure to meet up.”
—I like that, I’ll have to remember that one. 🙂

Biz said
January 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Wow – that’s great Charlie! It at least sounds like things are falling into place! 😀

Love, your prettier sister

Back to the Fridge » Plot? What Plot? said
January 19, 2010 at 12:01 am

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