Thursday, January 6, 2011

taking stock

I’ve hit my first snag. I’m now about 10000 words in to the new book and am realizing that there may be points of divergence here that I hadn’t counted on. The problem lies in the fact that the Otherwhen Chronicles began life as a round-robin experiment, in which I wrote the first segment then sent it off to another writer, who picked up the threads and wrote the next segment, then sent it back to me so that I could do the same and so on. It was a great deal of fun at the time, but admittedly not the best way to write a cohesive narrative. It was complicated by the fact that the first writer dropped out a few segments in and was replaced by yet another writer, with a completely different writing style. That continued for a while, until he too dropped out and I decided to continue on my own.

In a sense, what I’ve ended up with is an origin story that is literally all over the map. Plot twists are introduced that lead nowhere, characters come and go without explanation and storylines are left dangling, never to be picked up again. It’s very much like episodic television. Remember Buffy The Vampire Slayer? One week the characters would be very dark and the storyline dramatic, the next would be more comical and light-hearted and the next would be a musical. Fans loved it, but the overarching storyline tended to suffer. Just so this tangled mess in which I find myself re-immersed. The real difference is that we went the whole Perils Of Pauline route and tried to end each segment with a cliffhanger. The next writer’s task was to get the characters out of their jam, then build the story back up to another suspenseful faux conclusion. Very melodramatic. Not very conducive to smooth transitional storytelling.

Not that I am at all daunted by any of this. If anything, it just presents a new and unforeseen set of challenges. Somehow I’ve got to break down these unruly batches of prose into their base elements, either wrap-up the dangling threads or jettison them entirely and bring the story back to its arc. Either that, or rethink the whole concept of this book. There have been some very good examples of episodic, multi-writer tomes. The Borderland and Sanctuary series come to mind. However, since this particular “story” begins as a multi-writer manuscript, but eventually becomes a solo endeavor, it gets tricky.

A friend of mine once told me that the only way he can write his novels is to break every plot device down into segments and synopsize them onto 3x5 index cards, which he then tacks up onto a corkboard so that he can look at it, much like a storyboard used by film animators. This way, he says, he doesn’t lose track of the incidental moments that have become so important to the type of stories he writes. He can simply add or subtract index cards as he builds the story. Then, when he’s satisfied that all of the elements are in place, he sits down and starts writing. This is a very complex and sequacious way of approaching the craft. My style of writing has always been more freeform, much like what Ray Bradbury describes. I let the characters tell the story and many times I have no idea how that story is going to end until it is revealed to me. It’s a lot like watching a movie in my head and transcribing it as I go.

In this case, however, the movie is already in the can. Hours of footage that now have to be edited down to a serviceable and more easily manageable whole. I find myself wondering if my friend’s approach might not help, simply by virtue of the fact that it would allow me to keep track of all those untidy elements and either work them back into the storyline or extricate them entirely. He also tends to color code his cards, so that he knows which plot elements they are addressing. This, too, could come in handy here. What it means, however, is that I will be stepping away from the enjoyable task of word production and taking on the role of editor. Something I have a lot of experience with, but not exactly what I had in mind, right now.

Still, if I am to do justice to these characters and the tales they have been imparting to me over the last ten years or so, the problem must be addressed. Sure, I could just put it aside and start something new, but that would be taking the easy way out. This particular challenge will take far longer than originally intended, mainly because I have a full-time job and don’t have more than a handful of hours each day to devote to it. What I do have, however, is the drive to see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, now, and really, there is no better time than the present to make it happen.

So, I appear to have made up my mind. I’ll forge ahead. The how of it has yet to be decided. I’ve got a lot of reading to do and notes to take. Who knows, I may even discover something new and completely unforeseen along the way. In any event, this book will get written and, in the process, I will try to document its creation here. It may not always be remarkable, but I hope it will, at least, be illuminating.

Okay then… (sound of cracking knuckles) better get to it…

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