Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Damned Novel, part Four.

I'm getting sick of this image and yet here it is again. At least I've got something to bitch about.

So at that point I started writing the last volume. And I got a good ways into it and trashed what I'd done.


What had happened was that I'd set up some situations and characters that weren't gelling. Large chunks of classical and Scandinavian mythology were crowding their way into a one-room unfurnished cosmos.

So I tried something that had blocked me every time I'd tried it before. I sat down and started working on an outline.

There's a dispute regarding outlining and both sides of it are dead right -- in a limited way. The outliners say that it's stupid to start a trip if you don't know where you're going. The free writers say that outlining is for hacks. There are even rumors that some people will mentally outline a story and then claim they'd written it without a plot. I ain't got the balls for that.

My position has come to be an ecumenical one. I free wrote at first but then when I was totally, utterly at sea I sat down, reread everything, took notes, and made a list of all the dangling plot threads. Then I figured out how to tie them all together.

And then I had a solid outline for the third volume. At which point I realized that I'd save myself a hell of a lot of revision if I went back to the beginning and made the first and second volumes line up with everything that was going to follow.

More than two hundred manuscript pages of notes and outlines later I started in on the job. This was the point at which the setting and characters really congealed; the mythological characters were transformed into my characters, the workings of the fantastic elements became thoroughly locked into the story...

I just hit the sixty-thousand word mark this week; I'm aiming for a hundred, since I read on John Scalzi's blog that Tor likes their manuscripts to weigh in at a hundred thousand words. Fine with me; that's about the length the work seems to want. Volume three is solidly outlined; volume two has a solid ending but the story still needs some massage.

When the first volume's done I'll give it one more massage (compress chapters two and three into one chapter, finesse the details foreshadowing Matt's metamorphosis...) and then send it out to fresh readers. After that it'll be one last line edit and off to the rounds of agents and publishers.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you say. But what's it about?

It's about rock and roll. It's about what it means to be working class in America. It's about art and artists. It's about friendship, especially the friendships between men and women. It's about both mental illness and visionary spirituality.

It's about the stories we tell about ourselves and each other. It's about love and anger and self-destruction and how people need each other, help each other, and use each other -- and how these categories tend to have blurry margins. It's about the nitty-gritty details of drug use and cleaning toilets. It's about uninsured trips to the emergency room.

It's about life after death -- and how the afterlife is affected by the population boom. It's about monsters and roaring ghosts, farm animals and parents who are becoming quite strange under the influence of Lamarckian evolution. It's about the cosmic being whose duodenum is Heaven's waiting room. It's all about the valve.

But it turns out that if you ignore all the knobs and doohickeys the story itself is an old and familiar one.

"A troubled young man falls in with roguish and unpredictable companions. Through them he leaves his old world behind and travels to a new one, a world full of visions and wonders. While in this world he finds love, undergoes transformations, gains strange powers and in the end uses them to save both worlds."

One Last Thing...

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