The new novel (working title: Grub Street) is progressing well. It’s at about 18,700 words, which is roughly 20 per cent. I’ve done several major revisions already on those 18,700 words, which goes against the standard writing advice to finish the whole first draft first and then go back. I can’t write a long piece that way. If my foundation is wobbly — not at the level of language, of course, but at the basic level of character and motivation — I need to fix it before moving on.
Even after several passes, the language is rough and there are sections of dialogue that are simply sketched in. (I had MONSTER GOES HERE written in the middle of one scene for the longest time, until I got a flash of inspiration about what that particular monster was.) But that kind of roughness I can live with in a first draft.
I did those passes because I needed to flip events around, when I realized the cause-effect line just wasn’t there, the way I had planned it out at first. I had (A happens, B happens, C happens), when really it works so much better as (B causes A which then causes C).
Partly this is because I’m not a very good outliner, despite my best efforts. It’s only after I write a few scenes that I start to get a sense of who my characters are, and how they are likely to interact with each other. I do have an outline for this novel, but it’s pretty sketchy and I’m noticing my protagonist doesn’t seem to have much chemistry yet with his intended love interest. (He does have chemistry with one of the monsters, though. Which might be interesting to explore.)
My outlines tend to work best as very loose frameworks, and then I plot out a few scenes at a time within that. I know where I am, and I know where I have to get, and then I figure out what would make my protagonist go there.
I find protagonists really difficult to write in novels. Secondary characters are so much easier: a few telling details, an idiosyncrasy, a bit of an arc and away you go. They’re like character actors in movies. In short stories, I find it a little easier to write oddball, interesting protagonists. But for some reason I think up novel protagonists who are… normal. Code for boring. I think it’s because my subconscious believes nobody’s going to want to live for 300 pages in the point of view of a character who’s little more than a funny hat, a superpower or a catchphrase, so I don’t give them a funny hat, a superpower, or a catchphrase, and they end up spending scene after scene confused and upset by the awesomeness of everyone around them.
Which led me to write another note to myself on my character notes for my protag: NEEDS MORE AWESOME.
I think he’s getting there. He’s definitely more awesome than he was. And there are things about this book I really, really love already. Mostly the monsters.
UPDATE TO ADD: All of this is so much easier using Scrivener. I love Scrivener.