Sequel time again!
I’ve been fighting to break through a creative rut for the past few days, and have once again identified WOW as a major culprit – though not the only one. It’s distraction in general, and I think this year is as good a time as any to launch into a full-blown crusade against distracting myself – when I know there’s other stuff I want to actually get done. I don’t think “distractions” are a bad thing; I think distracting yourself is a perfectly valid way to spend/kill time, and it only becomes an issue when you are not in control of when you do it, and how often, and for how long. Which, I mean, is pretty much always, because self-distraction is escapism, and the entire point of escapism is to get away from things like being responsible and managing your time sensibly and being productive and all that other shit you’re supposed to be doing.
All things in moderation and all that – I just need to learn moderation. I want to learn it. Because I want to do writing this year, big writing, like I wanted to do last year with an apocalyptic urgency that, honestly, I don’t miss anymore. I did for a while because it really felt like it was going to make me get shit done, and then I started Weekly Words and realised that, actually, all I need to get shit done is some external accountability/mutual investment and having a way to maintain perspective on what I’ve accomplished and how I’ve done it.
I’m still thinking of ways to fix up my zero draft of Wolf Gang, and I’m quite keen to actually do it, but this sequel was such a great idea to start with that just ended up going in a direction that I didn’t want it to – and for so many of my stories, that would have been the point where I gave up and never looked back. But in this case, I gave up, took the opportunity to try out other things, and have now come back with a fresh perspective on how to handle it. Specifically: cut out the boring shit and get to the good stuff right the fuck now. Exactly what worked with the first book; yes it did mean that I spent a year writing the last third of the book because I had left all the boring stuff until the end, but four years on I realise that, actually, the “boring stuff” is interesting to me – and I know better now how to approach it so that it’s not actually boring.
Which is in no small part thanks to my co-writing friend sharing her thoughts about my zero draft of Wolf Gang with me, making me think of it in ways that seem obvious now that my eyes have been opened to another perspective. Further proof that the lone artist suffering for their art isolated from the rest of the world is not just toxic, but impractical.
I’ve read some books, and I want to discuss them, but I also want to not sound like a snarky internet critic while I do it and I just don’t trust myself to not come across that way yet. I’m still stuck on my review of The Wereling, which I read in November; I have a lot of thoughts about it but I think I’m going to have to give up on some of my arguments for the sake of actually publishing an opinion that I’m not utterly embarrassed by. Not as in I need to make it more palatable by being dishonest, but that I need to find a more palatable way of getting to the core of my issues with the book – and the things that I think worked well, because yes in fact there are parts of it that I thought were quite strong.
As for the rest – I’ll just say this: not a single werewolf/shifter book that I have read so far has actually inspired me in terms of my own werewolf story. I just don’t want to tell a story like the ones that seem most common – which is odd for me, because a lot of the time I’m totally a bandwagoning hack at heart. I wonder if it’s just a difference between the stories that get told in books versus what’s on film and television, because the entire inspiration for Wolf Gang came from the movie Wolves (yes werewolves but no Dylan O’Brien), the other movie The Maze Runner (no werewolves but yes Dylan O’Brien), and the tv show Teen Wolf (yes werewolves and yes Dylan O’Brien).
I’m sensing a pattern here.
Iteration continues on the sequel – iteration is a good word for describing my newfound “method” of drafting. I have to edit a bit as I go, because writing myself into corners is not helpful, and also because sometimes better ideas just show up and fix problems I intended to ignore for the sake of just getting shit done. It means that, yes I end up doing more writing than I might if I just wrote straight through from start to finish, but it also means that I’m working with something that, like, works pretty much all the way through – and can and almost certainly will still change through the revision process.
One of the issues I’m realising is a big one recently, one of the main reasons why I’ve found that I can’t just write from point A to point B, is that starting a story is actually really hard. I’ve found this in shows I’ve been watching and books I’ve been reading; the latest book, A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, which I have been looking forward to ever since an old friend put it on my radar a few months ago. It’s been in my library queue ever since then, and now that it’s here …
I wish I liked it more than I do. I really do. But I don’t. And to be fair, it’s still early days; I haven’t even gotten to page 30 yet and I’m willing to stick it out and see where it goes. Alice in Wonderland adaptations are nothing new, but while I’ve been burned before, I’m willing to keep my fingers crossed for a righting to the wrongs of the past. But the big issue for me is that the world-building is all exposition so far; the scene-setting is literally a supporting character telling the main character how things work through exposition and then the narrator filling in the blanks through more exposition. It started like that, and it’s continuing like that, and I do not like it. My hope is that when all of the expositing is done, the rest of the story will be good – it’s definitely promising so far anyway – but it’s brought home to me the importance of taking your time telling a story and setting things up. Though while I can criticise all I want, it’s also a huge part of why certain projects of mine have never gotten off the ground.
I like fantasy, even if the genre – high fantasy in particular – rubs me the wrong way more often than not. because of its inherent imaginative scope, the potential for the kind of ideas you could come across within it. I love fantastic worlds and magic systems and lore and all that other geek-ass shit. It’s great. But it’s fucking hard to introduce. It’s like coming to a conversation with a statement prepared and then trying to find a natural place to fit it in during the course of the interaction, and the thing about that is that, if you come over-prepared, there isn’t a natural place to fit it in. I find this is my problem: I know the lore of my world, I know how the magic works, I know the political affiliations of the various nation-states and factions and all the fucking erst of it; but when it comes time to introduce all of this neat shit to my readers, the ideas gets bottlenecked in my mind because they’re so fully-formed to me that I can’t step back from them and think of how somebody new to them needs to be introduced to them, and the end result is that nothing at all comes out. At the very least, McKinney has put her ideas down in writing and gotten them published; there’s a lot of stuff she needs to introduce us readers to, and while I may not gel with her approach, at least she took an approach at all. I’m still fretting over the right way to introduce ideas of mine that are over a decade old by now.
I think that might be why urban fantasy appeals to me so much; it’s not that there’s no world-building to do, it’s that so much of it can be done by trusting the reader to fill in the blanks, plus you get the Harry Potter effect if you want where you can actually introduce things to the reader like they’re new and amazing, because they might well be to the characters as well. Even then, though, your exposition mileage may vary. It’s a fine line, sometimes, the kind of thing that makes the “prologue” to the Lord of the Rings films work while the intro sequence to The Golden Compass feels tacky and rushed. Both are montages; both have a mysterious voiceover narration – yet one is one of the most iconic sequences in modern film history, and the other is the first couple of minutes of The Golden Compass. It’s not just that it’s very clear that The Golden Compass is trying desperately to be the next LoTR, which it was right from the start; it’s just that one is better than the other, more effective, draws you in, grabs your attention, gets you invested. Hell, then there’s Star Wars, the opening text scrawl being the only introduction we even get to the world we’re about to be shunted into, and that works fine. Sometimes less is more.
And I’m over here, writing the sequel to an urban fantasy novel where the only weird thing is that some people are werewolves, and it’s still really hard to know which side of that line I’m on, or how to cross it if I need to. Trial and error, I guess – it’s not a very heartening prospect, especially since failing at something doesn’t necessarily teach you why you failed, or how to succeed next time.
Well, I can work on that this year, then. I have a whole bunch of fantasy projects that I’ve wanted to write for varying numbers of years per project, and I think I have the ability to at least learn how to overcome the problem of exposition and introducing fantasy worlds that have important distinctive characteristics that are key to understanding the story at all.
Or maybe I’ll just write an autobiography. I don’t have a YouTube channel, but maybe I can make one after the fact so that it looks legit.
That is how much I wrote today. It is not how much of my writing that I kept.
It’s better, this method, where I let myself edit as I go while keeping my goal in mind – it’s slowly bridging the translation gap between the ideas I have and my writing of them. And you know what? I’m still not there. I really am going to have to start just skipping around to different parts of the story again; yes, it meant that the first Wolf Gang suffered from a really extended final stretch of writing – it took a year to write the final 30% because all the fun stuff had already been written – but like I say, I think I know how to avoid that happening again, and while what I got done today wasn’t bad, it also isn’t what I actually want to be writing. Time to jump around.
Weekly Total: 9003
Writing your story in the order of events as they will happen in the final draft – I mean, for starters, that’s probably not going to happen just because events will most likely swap places, be removed/replaced entirely, or merge together during the revision process. But even what that sequence of events looks like in your head when you first start out is not the model that you have to use for organising which bits you write in what order. As I learnt with the first Wolf Gang, writing out-of-order is extremely helpful when you have ideas you’re bursting to get written but also want to tell a coherent story – as I’m trying to remind myself now, the trick is to trust yourself to tell that coherent story by the time you’re done. And you are not “done”, by any stretch of the imagination, even when you finish your zero draft, let alone right at the start of it. Coherence is, in large part, presentation, the sequence of events, and with any decent word-processor app that shit is beyond easy. It’s definitely beneficial to have a general outline for how you want the events of your story to play out, I feel, but it’s more important to write in a way that means you actually get shit written – and for me, right now, I think jumping around might be it.
Then again, it might not. I’ve been persisting with this one chapter for the past couple of days, despite it not being exactly what I want it to be, and maybe that works in its own way. There’s something that compels me to keep at it, whatever that thing might be, and it’s not like I have a deadline for this or any form of external accountability, so for the time being – it’s still getting done. This doesn’t feel like I’m banging my head against a wall, just that I’m not following my own advice. But it could be because there’s more for me to learn about writing, just by writing and seeing what comes of it.
Read “could be” as “is definitely with zero ambiguity”. I have a lot to learn about writing yet.
And at the moment, learning is turning out to be pretty fun.