Sunday, October 19, 2014

So I’m Writing This Novel: Forcing the Fun

I thought about keeping with the alliteration of the title and adding an extra F word—it would be an accurate indication of how I feel—but I believe the heading is a little too public for that sort of language.


Am I right, writers?

Alright, now that I’ve effectively lost half my audience, let’s begin.

There’s a saying that, like most sayings, I don’t pay enough attention to to remember verbatim, but goes something like, “Start your story as close to the end as possible.” Many beginning authors “start theirs too early,” and take a damn long time to get to the point.

I do this. Except it’s not that I start too far away from the plot, but rather I start too far away from the scene that I actually want to be writing. As I believe about many authors’ instinctive beginnings, the place I decide to start always has a logical entry point—the introduction makes sense, clarifies the world, and foreshadows (what I think) will be some of the major setting elements and themes.

I started THE PLANE with a plane fight. Duh. It establishes Soel’s above-average talent in piloting by having him beat out six other pilots. (One of the major realizations I’ve had over the years is to always have your protagonist fight someone of average abilities and have him win or lose accordingly. Usually, I would have him/her fight someone pretty damn epic, have him/her lose, and then have the audience have misgivings about how good of fighters he/she actually is.) I established his failings with guns and his need for a gunman, hence setting up the importance and his dependence on a future character. Finally, it was a means for me to launch the significance of money to him, and just how much one “drakma” was worth.

The beginning, as a whole, was a technically useful introduction to the world, Soel, and the conflict. I also had a hard time writing it.

When I first began, I didn’t know how magic played in. I like magic, and I have a hard time caring about worlds without it. I was inherently imagining the world sans the supernatural, but I consciously decided to contradict the instinct. I didn’t know how much, however, of it I wanted to be dealing with. I also hate action sequences. I also know very little about planes. I also know very little about the rules of the world’s technology. This all made the scene not fun to write and slow going.

Usually I have a rule of thumb that if I’m bored, the audience will be. But I read through the section again, and—while I want something more to it—it wasn’t as bad to read as it was to write. It was much faster, for one thing, and pretty exciting, if not all that… oh we’ll say logical.

I got through it, I got him on the ground and in a conversation—two areas I feel more comfortable in—and sped through a scene between him and a character who I know I will proceed to abuse the hell out of. It was fun, what I wanted to be writing, and ended quickly. Also, unfortunately, did not finish how I expected at all.

I pictured their little interaction to finalize with the legion (their government) rapping at their door. (Quit picturing 50-Cent, you bastards.) They would be revoking Soel’s plane for his fines, and chopping off Reger’s hand at the protagonist’s balking. They would meet the main villain, and Soel would immediately be removed from his lifestyle, which would quickly lead me to the scene that I’ve been waiting for, the introduction of Sanya, Soel’s gunman. I have the whole thing planned out, and I find it pretty damn funny.

But that’s not what happened. I ended up derailing, realizing that I had set up the pins and couldn’t knock them down so quickly without it feeling contrived. I sent Soel to the legion’s post—which was a good idea because it established the contrast of their lifestyle from his, as well as built the world better, which I’ve already discussed needs to be done. But I was forced to keep going somewhere that I didn’t really want to be and didn’t know how to end.

 Writing became hard again.

Fortunately—or unfortunately—I’m not one to believe that I should submit myself to writing scenes I’m not interested in. They often read like that’s exactly what they are—I don’t care, my readers don’t care, lots of times my characters don’t even care—lacking in energy and passion, usually ending up dull. The more fun I’m writing, the more fun the reading tends to be. Therefore, it makes sense that I don’t have to write what I don’t want to. It is supposed to be exciting. The answer how to make it fun is often the same as how to make it interesting. So what do I need to do?

For one thing, I realized I could end the legion scene earlier than anticipated. I could still leave his visit in the manuscript, but I didn’t have to show him being detained. I could stop it right at the two big legionnaires entering the hall where he was arguing with the little man over collecting a bounty. He could very well just go right back to Reger’s workshop—face bloodied, hair grimy and matted down, a pissed expression—and announce, “Where the hell is my plane?”

I didn’t want to spend much time with the taking of the plane scene, and I believe that his reaction in the aftermath was just as important, if not more so, then how he handled them actually removing it from his possession. I didn’t need to blather on about how he finds out or how they treated him. I can skip the scene, the story won’t suffer for it, and I won’t have to write it.

But as I was realizing this, it also brought to view the breaking of a certain rule I have for myself: No there and back again.

I have a tendency to have a character start in Location A, go to Location B, come back to A, often several times. I can’t explain what exactly about this feels like poor execution to me—except maybe it sounds like poor planning, or looks like the story isn’t progressing—but whenever I do it, there always seems to be a problem attached.

And so I looked at the first Reger and Soel scene again and realized that without it ending as originally planned, I didn’t really see the point in it being there. Which was kind of great, because I wanted to get the plot going, but also kind of upsetting because it was about 2,000 words lost. Not that that actually matters in the grand scheme, but it feels like a wasted amount of work.

But I didn’t want to remove the visit to the legion post, and I also realized that the antagonist’s (who is yet unnamed) wouldn’t come to pick up the plane himself anyway. If he was going to hack off Reger’s hand, he had to be in the workshop (no way in hell I could get Reger to come to him), and, based on the antagonist’s motivation behind taking the plane in the first place, I think he had to meet Soel first, realize Soel’s importance to his cause, and then come all the way to their station before punishing the mechanic. There’s no way he would live there, I realized, so no reason he would be there to retrieve the thing. He’s too rich to deal with that crap.

So I deleted scene two, shortened scene three, and then still had to go a couple of extra places before I could get to Sanya’s bar fight, or Sanya and Soel’s interactions, and their actual mission, all of which I have imagined big parts of vividly and I’m excited to write about.

Sometimes I will let myself summarize scenes I don’t want to write to get to the good parts. Sometimes I will write out of order all together. Sometimes I’ll scrap the beginning and go straight to the good stuff. “That’s what my readers would want me to do,” I insist.

But the summation of a scene I don’t like is really procrastination—I’ll have to do it sometime. And if I write out of order, I have a hard time keeping track of what the audience knows or doesn’t, which is one of my bigger weaknesses especially if there’s going to be big changes to the beginning scene, which I assume there will be.

And lastly, my instincts were right on about the sorts of places and events the audience needed to see. They were just very wrong about how to make that interesting. At least to me.

Again, a part of the reason is how long they take to write, how unnaturally the cause and effects of each moment come to me. After deleting scene two, it made it worse. I feel like this book is taking longer than most have, partially because I’m not pressing on, but actually am looking back.

Anyway, I’m changing the introduction now. Probably stalling because I don’t want to write what comes next. This book is going to take forever.

Some of the deleted scene two:

They had been good friends before the three years Soel went gallivanting, disappearing with no word to anyone after that. When he came back, things were never the same, partially because they each had their own lives now, and Soel only came to Reger for favors, like keeping the plane in his dock, and cheap labor.
            But Soel realized that Reger wasn’t going to budge. After he had gotten out of the plane and walked around it, Soel’s stomach had turned to lead.
            The little brown vehicle was mangled. Its patchwork of multicolored paneling was more porous than a fisherman’s net. They had blitzed his machine badly—as he expected. From the front, with the exception of the few dents from long before the fight, his front looked fairly normal. But the back…
            His tail had one little fin still sticking up right, but one side was completely mutilated. It looked as though someone had taken a hammer to it.
            With great hesitance, Soel went to the engine and found it covered in black, smoking, with foul liquids protruding from all kinds of places.
            He had already been getting on Reger’s nerves. This would not be easy.
            “Don’t know why you’ve been attached to that thing for so long ‘nyway,” the mechanic grunted.
            He wrenched around the nut. Soel didn’t recognize the thing Reger was working on, but he rarely did anyway. Mechanics, the insides of the plane, never interested him much. He just didn’t get it.
            Striding across the wooden floor of the workroom, Soel made some distance between him and the man before spinning. “I’m good for the money. Y’know it.”
            Reger just snorted.
            “I got twenty drakma comin’ in.”
            “If you can prove it.”
            “I can prove it. They’re gone, ain’t they?”
            “So? No sayin’ they didn’t just get bored an’ leave.”
            “This aint my first rodeo. I’ve done it just like this.”
            “You should’ve gotten tokens,” Reger said. “You never bother. You think everyone’s good on their word.”
            Soel crossed his arms, his leather coat crinkling. “Never had a problem before.”
            “You don’t deal with bandits too much. And you’ve been getting bounties from the station heads. It’s the legion you’re dealin’ with this time, and they like to scam people as much as they can. They know they won’t be shot.”
             “Don’t count on it.”
            “Then y’got a bounty on your head. Come on, Soel. Do y’ever think?”
            The pilot licked his chapped lips, glancing around the room. The small workspace was musky and hot, the humid air of the evening coming in strips through the holes in the slates. It was a mess, per usual, machine parts strewn across the floor. Sacks of canned food and gallons of water next to a fraying hammock. He had a ladder leading up to a small upstairs space—it’s side open to viewers who entered in through the front door from the docks—but he kept larger engines up there, hanging from the ceiling so as not to be damaged by resting on the floor for months at a time. Reger believed the proximity to the top would save anything that broke beam or rope, but Soel believed the ten-ton equipment would just come crashing down through it.
            “I can’t just buy a new one,” Soel said finally. “I don’t got the cash at all. And who could I find willin’ to sell me a plane on prospects?”
            “Yeah,” Reger scoffed. “Who would be fool enough.”
            “I need y’man. I need y’more than I’d ever needed you before. I am in deep shit here.”
            Reger slammed down the wrench on his work table. “So you expect me to just eat it?”
            “Not the parts. I’ll pay y’for the parts,” Soel insisted. Then, seeing the man’s expression: “I’ll pay y’for your time too. Just not right away.”
            The mechanic just shook his head.
            “Come on. I’ve never stiffed y’before.”
            “Yeah. If you got it. I know you’re good when the money’s in hand. I just don’t know if it will ever be in hand. Y’know?”
            Soel tensed. “I’ll get it. It might take some time, but I always get it. And I got a big cash cow comin’ in right now.”
            Reger just rolled his head back, looking up towards the wooden rafters in exasperation. “If oceans freeze over and you get the dough from the legion, you’ll have to give it back to ‘m to pay y’r fines. If y’don’t pay y’r fines, the plane’s gettin’ taken, and you won’t earn no more.”
            “It won’t be taken, and if I don’t get it fixed, I won’t be earnin’ nothin’ anyway.”
            “You can’t even get me enough for the parts right now.”
            Soel’s arms collapsed beside him. He hated this. Reger was right, of course; Soel hadn’t even paid back all he owed from the last few repairs. The pilot hated himself, hated knowing that he was just taking advantage, advantage of the one person who liked him enough to let him. If he had another option, he would back down. But if he had another option, he wouldn’t hate himself.
            “Reger, they’re gonna send me to the Isles if I can’t pay my fines.”
            “No they won’t.”
            “The legion is going to harangue me. You know how they are when we cross’m.”
            “You ain’t crossin’ them, and you ain’t what they’re after. They’ve been collectin’ extra cash all across the channel.”
            Soel set his jaw.
            “They’ve been creatin’ laws and making shit up so they can fine you. Fine all of us,” Reger finished.
            “Don’t matter if they believe it or not. They won’t be lettin’ me out of disrespectin’m.”
            “They want your money or they want your plane. They don’t give a shit about y’r life.”
            “My plane is my life! They take that away from me, what do I got?”
            Reger dropped his head, groaning. Soel waited. Finally, they matched gazes.
            “Where’s all the money you’ve been savin’?”