The Story Unfolds
On Saturday I began telling the 20-year story of my novel. But so far, I’ve only told a part of the story. Granted, though, it’s the part with the most drama: the moment of inspiration and the beginning of my life-long love of fantasy fiction and of writing. But I hope it doesn’t remain the most dramatic part of the story forever. However, I’m not at that part of the story yet…
Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” were definitely the inspiration for my initial effort. I borrowed a few ideas and motifs, modified character names to fit to my own characters, and sought to replicate the flavor of his work. I even intended, from the very beginning, to follow the multiple-volume structure with a second and third in the series. The plot and story, however, were of my own invention – subject to the constraint that my imagination was primed to retell the same sort of generic fantasy story I was coming to know and love.
When I began the story, I was in the middle of Elementary School, still in Germany. I hand wrote everything on lined notebook paper – kept in a binder – and drew pictures of the scenes I attempted to describe on the back. Since these earliest years drawing and writing have always been linked for me. Art was simply another means to express the same story. It took me several years to write, and I only ever made it about two-thirds of the way through, to a chapter numbered in the 20’s or 30’s. Somewhere, I still have that old, very first draft of my book. It’s a strange artifact. The first few chapters are clearly the work of a very young child, but the chapters successively increase in length and sophistication, and the style evolves and improves. And the accompanying pictures grow fewer and farther between.
It was sometime in Middle School, with varying degrees of support and encouragement from my English Teachers, that I began the first of many rewrites. At this point, I already recognized that my early attempt was infantile in execution. My ideas were more mature and more nuanced. During these years, I first began to use a computer instead of writing by hand. But over time, I’ve lost the original files they were stored in (on programs that have obsolesced many times over in the years since). It is here that I learned the true value of a hard copy: work printed on paper never goes obsolete and, if protected, will never be corrupted.
It was in these years that I also first learned the sting of competition mixed with a sense of inadequacy. Upon learning that I was writing a novel, one classmate heartily bragged that he’d already written a novel. But to show he wasn’t too far above it all, he even deigned to “help” me start writing mine. At the time, I couldn’t type, so I accepted his help. I never made it very far into that draft of the story – no more than a few chapters. But I must admit, I questioned myself. Was I really that far behind the curve that this classmate, whom I wasn’t particularly fond of, had already written a novel and I was just now starting a stuttering second draft? In the end, I was undeterred, and over time I continued to work and write.
Still, throughout this period, I continued to read fantasy and science fiction novels, and my sources for inspiration increased. From Tolkien to Robert Jordan, I read as much as I could – though I admit that I’m not as well read as other fans might be (I apparently read at a fairly leisurely pace). I mention Tolkien and Jordan by name because, in large measure, they have had the biggest impact on my development as a writer alongside Alexander. I was impressed by their style and scope, and their approach to their work.
Some time in High School I finally learned to type. And the regular essay-writing and story-writing assignments in English class gave me plenty of writing practice. By the end of my senior year, I was ready to flex my new writerly muscles – I started a new draft, fresh and clean, with a new title both for the book and for the series. And I worked at a steady pace, turning out a new chapter roughly every other month (which, in hindsight, isn’t too terribly fast a pace of work, but I hadn’t yet developed a solid work ethic). By my second year of college, however, my pace was beginning to slow. and, I’d begun to notice a trend again: my higher-numbered chapters were once again of a higher quality and sophistication than my earlier chapters. Still, I reasoned, they were pretty good. About as good as some novels I’d seen published (though clearly not as good, yet, as the best). But I put those first few chapters up on-line, hoping to get useful feedback, and continued to write. I only ever got a handful of comments on that draft. And my pace slowed even more.
And then something terrible happened…
I liken this part to the sagging middle of a novel – the dull part, I’m afraid. On Wednesday I’ll finish this tale, as the danger and intrigue ramp up, and everything I’d worked for comes crashing down. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about last Thursday’s Decision Modeling class.