"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I made it over the 35k word mark today. I've written seven and a half chapters. I'm definitely past the 1/4 mark of the book, and still on target to get 1/3 done before March runs out. My ambition was to write 10k words a week, though, and so far I'm falling short of that. I'm closer to 7,500 words a week. Still, I'm averaging over 1000 words a day, which isn't bad. If I can continue this pace, plus work in a few days where I really catch fire and get out 5k in a single day, my May 30th first draft goal is still looking good.

I'm definitely no longer writing the opening of the book. First drafts of my novels come in three phases:

1. The optimistic opening.
2. The mushy middle.
3. The bitter end.

Each phase has it's challenges. The optimistic opening phase is fun because I'm still full of energy, certain that this is the best idea I've ever had for a book. But, then once I get to about the third or fourth paragraph of the first chapter and I realize that, somehow, I have to get all the characters and places and concepts out of my skull and into my computer, and it changes from creativity into, you know, work. Not that I'm complaining! I love writing! But, there's a point where I've spent an hour or two writing my first thousand words that I invariably think, "Well, I still have 119,000 thousand words to go." It can be a little intimidating.

Then there's the mushy middle, which I'm starting to sink into. I recently posted a fairly long post about this on Codex, which is, alas, a private forum that I can't direct most people to. So, my intention is to edit what I wrote there to be read by a broader audience and post it here or at whateverville soon. The mushy middle is the quicksand of my novels. I lost many an early novel to the bogs here. Over the years, I've developed the ability to get through them, and even to make the middle parts of my novels really sing. The mushy middle of Nobody Gets the Girl, for instance, contains the big blow up in Jerusalem, perhaps the most memorable scene in that book. The mushy middle of Bitterwood has the brutal fight between Vendevorex and Zanzeroth. The mushy middle doesn't refer to the final product, but more to the process of getting the middle third (or more like the middle two quarters) of the book written, which is always a long, hard slog for me.

Finally, the bitter end. In this phase, I usually feel as if I've been working for months on a jigsaw puzzle, and I've just realized that the picture on the box is for a completely different puzzle. Usually, when I start a novel, I have a vision of the big climaxes I want to build to at the end. And, almost always, I get to the last quarter of the book, and realize that none of my early plans are going to work. The characters I wanted to behave a certain way took life and decided on different agendas as I wrote. Nobody was supposed to get his old life back. But, as I neared the end, he told me that wasn't the choice he would make, and I just had to deal with it. In my original outline for Bitterwood, it was actually Bitterwood who was in the Free City being tortured by Albekizan. Pet wasn't even in the original vision of the book when I started. When he did show up, I intended that he'd be a romantic interest for Jandra. But... Jandra was just having none of it. I know it's strange--these are my characters: if I want Jandra to fall in love, I just have to type "Jandra was in love" and "poof" she's in love. In theory. In practice, I reach a point where my characters fight back. "You know, Pet just isn't my type," Jandra protests. Bitterwood lectures me, "I'm not going to stand in front of a crowd and lead a revolution. I work best in the shadows. My hatred isn't meant to be shared with a mob. My demons ride me alone." All this means that, in every book I've ever written, when I get to the final chapters, the big scenes I'd had in mind when I started are torn in shreds, and I break into a flop sweat as I look at all the loose ends of what I've actually written and begin to understand the characters who actually showed up and try to figure out if there's any concievable way I'm going to weave all these loose ends together into an end that looks as if I'd been planning it all along.

Somehow, it all works out. And, apparently I'm just masochistic enough to enjoy it. Because once I'm done, I always turn around and do it again.

No comments: