Writing Progress: Week Ending January 21, 2012
Well, I had a really good writing week, and all-things-considered, I’m feeling pretty good:
Book of M:
- Background Notes Wordcount: 3,495 words
Grand Total: 3,495 words
My progress for the week was pretty well-distributed across several good writing days – despite having several other days off due to other ongoing committments. And I made good strides toward my goal of finishing this outline process by the 25th – i.e. by Wednesday.
At this point, I anticipate that I’ll miss that deadline/goal. But not by much. I’m still learning, at this stage, about what I can accomplish in a given time period, and about how fast I actually write. This will have been at least the third time I’ve missed a self-imposed deadline on getting the prep-work for “Book of M” done so I can start the actual draft. This time, though, I’m really close. In my outline I’m at approximately the 50% mark, or just a little short of it, for the novel.
I’m guesstimating, of course, because I’ve reached a very murky part of the plotting for this novel. The weird thing about this story is, since the very beginning I’ve had a very clear vision of how this story starts, and that vision has only gotten clearer. But I’ve never been entirely certain where it goes from there. I had a small catalog of scenes and goalposts in my head, but no connecting thread. The hard work I’m doing now is sussing out that connecting thread to see where it leads. So I still don’t know how this thing ends. I’m finding out as I go.
I suspect that means, as I reach the end of the outline, that I’ll actually have to go back and revise some elements of the outline earlier on. Actually, I’ve done that already – going back and adding notes about things I want to show or foreshadow at earlier points in the story. And that’s before I’ve gotten past the halfway.
As things progress, I’ve also become aware of two peripheral things: (1) I’m really in love with this world. It feels rich and alive to me. That’s probably consequent to the long time I spent writing out it’s whole history. (2) I’m really worried about the direction of the plot, as a whole, and about the potential reader’s attachment to main character.
Part of the problem about not knowing how this story ends is that the main character lacks a cohesive direction from the very beginning. I find myself comparing the first half of this book to the first halves of other books I’ve recently read (or am reading). Take the current book that I’m reading: The Hunger Games. It’s clear from very early that the main character wants two things: to protect her sister and to survive the Hunger Games. Everything else about the plot flows naturally from those two driving character facts. Or in The Children of Amarid, the main character leaves home to become an apprentice mage, and along the way gets pulled into a quest to find the source of an evil scourge that is being blamed on the order of mages, and to find a way to clear the mages’ name. The “quest” framework is a pretty traditional and standard fantasy trope that easily allows the author to give a character and the plot a clear direction. Or before those, in The Magicians the plot is given direction by the promise early in the book that the alternate fantasy world will be revealed to be real – and the protagonist’s disaffection with his present real world makes the question of the existence of that fantasy world more compelling.
The challenge I face: there’s no quest in this book. I haven’t figured out any driving imperatives on the part of the protagonist except to survive and escape… not some finite specific goal (like “survive the Hunger Games”) but in general (survive in a harsh world, escape the conditions of a corrupt, cruel and descriminatory society). There’s no logical endpoint at which I can say the protagonist has clearly either won or lost. And that robs the story of a certain tension and uncertainty. What happens next matters less because there’s no connection between the reader and the protagonist’s plight.
All of this is wrapped up in and tied to worldbuilding in this story. The protagonist is from a small village with a harsh system of rule. When she escapes that, she discovers that the wider world is no less harsh, and no less unjust. What then? On one hand, I’m able to introduce the reader gently to this world through a protagonist who is discovering it the first time herself (which is a common fantasy trope, as well, and one that made sense in this story). But on the other, the protagonist isn’t tied to anything in this new, larger world, and there’s no benevolent guide to help give her direction: again, there’s no quest.
That also means that large parts of the plot, through the halfway-mark, are driven by extra-protagonist forces; i.e. it has been others, not the protagonist, who have driven most of the plot. Only at about the 2/5ths mark I’m finding the protagonist come into her own, and she acquires new capabilities and strengths that allow her to be more active in her own destiny. Now, if only I can figure out: to what end?
Hopefully, once I learn how this story ends, I can go back to the beginning of the outline and more convincingly foreshadow it, and also give the protagonist a more sympathetic, active mind-set and a measureable opinion on the subject of how the story ends (even if that opinion perchance changes over the course of the story). As it stands, now, I’m worried that she’s a leaf blowing in the winds of fate, and right now fate is blowing in a pretty random and haphazard manner.
Unrelated to all this, I ended up feeling the need to reintroduce a certain Final Fantasy borrowing that I had previously more-or-less discarded. That’s right: I’m bringing back chocobos.
Well, not chocobos, actually. But large, flightless birds.
I was at a point where I needed the protagonist to be able to cross a decent stretch of arid or semi-arid wasteland in a fairly quick time-frame. I didn’t want her to have to walk and die of thirst. So I needed a mount. A mount that was well-adapted to the desert clime.
I briefly considered camels. But this is a fantasy world, dammit! And I reserve the right to introduce fantastic, implausible creatures into my story! Except, my bird-mounts aren’t entirely implausible. Just to make sure, I’m basing them on the real-world Elephant Birds of Madagascar, which only went exctinct in the 1600s, and the Giant Moas of New Zealand, as well as on Ostriches. Ostriches because those animals are already adapted to a semi-arid environment. And Elephant Birds, it turns out, could weight between 800 and 900 pounds. Small riding horses, I learned, could weigh between the low-800s up to 1200 pounds. That puts an Elephant Bird in the range of plausible to use as a mount.
My flightless riding birds, of course, won’t be called “Chocobos” (although the name I’ve chosen has echoes of the word “chocobo”). But functionally they’ll bear more than a passing resemblance to the riding birds of Final Fantasy fame. In retrospect, I hadn’t actually discarded the chocobo-homage from the story – I just hadn’t fit them in. But then, all-of-a-sudden, I had a need. And the chocobo doth provide.
So that’s where things stand, right now. I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me. I’ve got a long way to go, in some ways, to figuring out how this story ends, and then refashioning the beginning to better support that ending. And I’ve got a long way to go to give my main character some focus, some direction, some goals and desires, and some spine.
We’ll see if I can make it by Wesdnesday. I haven’t given up, yet. But if I don’t make it, I should still be done with the outline very soon. I look forward to writing the actual first draft!
And how are things in your own writing world? Problems with aimless characters? Still trying to hammer a plot in place? How has your writing been going?
[ETA: I neglected to mention, in the main body of this post, the key role Dear Wife played in helping make a great writing week happen. It's not often that I do a week with more than 3,000 words. Dear Wife saw my goals - and remarked that the self-imposed January 25th deadline for finishing my outline and prep-work was really ambitious, all-things-considered. Dear Wife is, of course, well-acquainted with my history of missing those deadlines, so far. And yet, despite the long odds on actually hitting that target, Dear Wife went about doing everything she could to help me make it. And we still got some good work done on our home-project during the week, too. Her help made it a top-notch week for my productivity.]