There’s something to be said about finishing a novel project. 🙂
Jon Chaisson's Blog o' Writing, Life, and Everything in Between
There’s something to be said about finishing a novel project. 🙂
The beginnings of my novels and stories usually get the most revision, mainly due to the fact that there’s a bit of flailing involved. I’m still trying to figure out the voice and the focus of the story, so there’s going to be a lot of dead-ends and extraneous filler that gets cut out, once I find my footing.
The endings, on the other hand, can go either way. Usually I know exactly where I want to stop; it’s just a matter of laying out how I’m going to get there. It’s a balancing game at that point…I don’t want to rush it, nor do I want to pad it out with unnecessary rambling.
I’ve made all kinds of errors in my years of learning how to write stories. I’ve written corny cliffhangers, implausible wrap-ups, unimportant ‘where are they now’ passages, and everything in between. [I can proudly say I have yet to write an ‘…and then he woke up, and it was all a dream” ending. Even I have my standards!] I usually spend as much time focusing on nailing the end as I do nailing the most important climactic scenes that come before it. I want to do it just right. Or right enough, where it can be fine-tuned in revision.
With Meet the Lidwells — I’m currently writing the last chapter at this time, and I should be done most likely this week or next — the ending has definitely been a tough one. As this is a story written in the format of a music biography, I can’t give it a nice poetic ending, or a roll-credits ending. Those books tend to resolve themselves in a slightly different way. The focus characters go on with their lives and careers, so this ending has to be more of an emotional closure. That part of their lives is over now, and they’ve moved on. And that’s been a hell of a tough one to capture just right.
I’m not looking to nail the ending perfectly, at least not right now. But when revision comes along, hopefully I’ll be able to do it justice.
As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells. This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.
Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year. I’m not used to this speed. There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.
Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off. It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced. No rushing to the last page here, kids. Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.
My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading. I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.
So far, so good. I’m almost there.
That’s a hell of a long time to be working on a novel, don’t you think?
At 11:18pm PT last night, I completed what I call the Great Trilogy Revision Project, a major overhaul of all three novels in the Mendaihu Trilogy. Entire scenes were rewritten, edited mercilessly, tightened up, names changed and characters strengthened. It took the better part of fourteen months and I kicked my own ass numerous times to avoid laziness and weak prose; I read, reread, re-reread, and re-re-reread (sometimes while at the gym!) until I knew the story, its history and its cast inside and out. And I read it again to make sure I knew where it worked and where it didn’t.
Today marks the first day in probably a decade or so where I have no plans to work on the existing novels or work on anything related. [Mind you, I definitely have plans to work on future Mendaihu Universe stories, just not at the moment.] In my mind, this epic project is DONE.
In late 1993, I’d just watched the first two Gall Force animes (I’d find the third movie a short time later) and found inspiration to write what I often call my Infamous War Novel, or IWN–my first novel from my high school years–in a completely new style I hadn’t tried before: science fiction. I wrote a few notes in a steno notebook while waiting for my clothes to dry at the Charles Street Laundry, and came up with a number of ideas that I could work with. I’m amused by the first line saying “VERY ANIME”, as well as the consistent anime references on that one page. As if I knew what the hell anime was at that point in time, other than my latest obsession! All I wanted to do was write something that was totally unlike American SF at the time.
Did I know what the hell I was doing? Probably not. I was woefully ignorant of genre fiction other than through movies, comic books and Japanese animation. But I was willing to learn along the way. I understood right away that storytelling in Japan is significantly different than storytelling in America, and I wanted to try my hand at writing that way.
Soon after, I did what I normally do when I come up with story ideas: I draw maps.
I knew I wanted a few things: a sprawling metropolis, a giant tower (hints of the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis), and a megacity so packed with different places and cultures that I knew I’d be able to use the setting for multiple story arcs. Bridgetown morphed and grew considerably and exponentially over the years, but there are points here that made it all the way to the finished product in one form or another. Sachers Island, Branden Hill Park (named Johnson Park here, but pretty much in the same shape), the warehouse district, and the dirty and dangerous strip of McCleever Street were there from the start.
Where to start, indeed.
My primary aim when I first started this novel was to write something totally unlike anything I’d written before. I wanted everything about this project to be completely new for me–an untried style, a setting I’d never ventured through, a plot that challenged me to work it through to the best of my ability.
Granted, I was far from perfecting that, but I was going to try anyway. Vigil–so named after this band of rebellious misfits bent on saving the world from corruption–was started on the Friday after Thanksgiving 1993, after getting off work. I’d had a few ideas written out here and there, but this was where it all started.
True Faith–the aborted rewrite from summer 1994–would grow out of this, introducing the spiritual background. The Phoenix Effect, the project from 1997-1998, grew out of TF and introduced the alien races. TPE in turn became the trilogy after a complete restart from scratch.
So for all intents and purposes, Vigil was the version that started it all. And now it’s done.
Any author will tell you that they have a hard time letting go of their projects, even once they’re completely finished and on their way to publication, and I am no different. I’m sure I’ll want to pick these three books up again and tinker with them some more. I’ve already got Book 1 out to a publisher, and am ready to take the next steps to shop it around and even get an agent if need be. I’ve also debated self-publication as an alternative. It’s a wide world out there, and I’d like to introduce you all to the Mendaihu Universe someday. On this evening, I’m finally that much closer to doing so.
But for now? I think I’ll do what I haven’t done since I started writing the trilogy proper, way back in 2000: I think I’ll let it sit awhile, and let it age gracefully.