The Way Back

Okay. It has not been that long since I last worked on Tallulah. It’s been, like, 2 years, tops. It has not been that long.

Also how the hell is it halfway through 2017 already that is just wrong.

I read through the second chapter; it’s one of the longer ones and it didn’t take too long to get through, even while making notes, and this bodes well, I feel. I did discover a whole bunch of stuff about this chapter since the last time I looked at it, and that tells me that taking time off was absolutely the right idea.

What I discovered was that I hate this stupid, pointless, confusing, reminding-me-of-how-half-assed-my-planning-was-for-this-book chapter – and it’s not even that it’s confusing. It’s not even that the characters’ motivations and opinions of each other are confusing, especially given what I know I wanted those motivations and opinions to be, because I apparently ended up writing them in order to convey the exact opposite of what that was.

It’s that it’s written so. Fucking. Badly.

And, like, I only wrote this chapter about …

Oh.

I wrote this almost 4 years ago.

Well, that explains a few things …

But it feels like it shouldn’t. It feels like I’ve been actively working on Tallulah for longer than this four-year gap suggests. This does not seem correct; I’m experiencing some serious fucking temporal dissonance here …

Because it feels like my writing style shouldn’t have changed this much during the past 4 years. I don’t feel like I’ve changed much during the past 4 years. But I suppose that isn’t true, now that I think about it.

I guess it’s just odd to think about the possibility that my writing style has changed while not ever actually thinking about it as even being a possibility. I can’t understand how this has happened, let alone how it happened without my even knowing about it.

And all of this leads to me thinking that, while taking a break from Tallulah to get some distance and perspective was a good idea, it might also have been a bad idea because now, looking it over with my 4-years-older eyes, I’m starting to think that Tallulah might actually be too old for me to write anymore. It might not be the book for me.

And yes, I am basing all of this on one chapter, because seriously you guys it is so fucking bad. It’s like an in-joke with myself; I introduce central characters as though the reader is supposed to already know who they are, probably because I went into writing that chapter after spending a whole year building up my own idea of them and how I want to protray them and how I want people to think about them … it’s just so gross. That’s the word I’m looking for here; the writing is yucky. It repulses me; it makes my skin crawl, like the meaty stench of a suppurating corpse. I hate the way this chapter is written. It’s just …

It’s just bad.

And on top of that: my fucking writing style has changed! Or my writing tastes, or writing instincts, or just whatever; I’ve changed, and it’s caught me by surprise. The only thing I feel certain about at the moment regarding this existential speed-bump is that I do feel the difference in my sensibilities. It still doesn’t make sense to me that there is a difference to begin with, but it’s definitely there. I never want to write that way again. I mean … man, was this all because I wrote an MA and a shitty YA werewolf novel in the intervening almost-4 years? Did it make that much of a difference? Or was it just taking a break letting me see what I’d actually written, which turned out differently from what I was trying to write at the time?

And what does this mean for other “old” projects? Most of the stories I think about writing on a regular basis are ideas I’ve come up with in the past 4 years; most of them I also haven’t actually written any of, or much at least. I wonder if I would feel the same sense of dissonance about these projects if I did have them written, if I were to read them over again – would I find that they were no longer stories that I could tell?

And what about future projects? What’s the shelf-life on my story ideas? How long will it be between the moments of conception and expiry on any given premise I come up with?

And I suppose I could draw the clear and obvious distinction between writing style and ideas; they’re not the same thing. But having said that, the voice of a story kind of is the story. You could tell the story of Harry Potter in the style of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Finnegan’s Wake, or The God of Small Things, and it would be an entirely different story. How a story is told tells you something about where that story is coming from, its angle, its agenda – you don’t have to agree with it or take it as written, but you can see where it’s trying to come from at the very least. Like with Tomorrow When the War Began, which is written like a children’s book but has the content of something much more mature; that tells you that it’s about childhood innocence being lost. Maybe. Maybe it’s actually telling you that the “YA voice” hadn’t been created at the point at which it was written, or that the writer just didn’t quite know how to craft an authentic-seeming adolescent voice, I know I wrote my review about that book like 2 years ago or something but I still feel flashes of annoyance for it like spontaneous allergic reactions that just come out of the blue and assail me … the point is that every idea comes with its own voice pre-packaged; you can’t separate an idea from the voice that it’s pitched in. It’s part of the idea.

But you can change it, right? Why am I asking rhetorical questions to myself? Maybe I just like panicking because I’m seriously screwy in the head and should really get around to making that therapist appointment I’ve been meaning to make for the past 5 months?

Yes, you can … which opens up some options that I have only been toying with up until this point. But that’s stuff for me to think about in private, I think. With regards to Tallulah specifically, though – it’s safe. I’m still going to write it. I know now that it doesn’t suit my voice, and perhaps during writing it I will find that it’s just not going to work out because the voice that suits the story and the voice that suits me almost 4 years later are incompatible, but up until I run into that brick wall I will indeed be running.

It feels a bit humbling, honestly, to have this realisation. It forces me to concede that I haven’t actually learnt everything there is to know about writing a novel; I never had any good reason to think that to begin with, and didn’t think that I thought it to begin with anyway, but upon discovering these things today it’s clear that I did. And that’s fine. Learning is always a good thing, and the more I can learn about this thing that I keep doing with my time, the better. I assume. I suppose I can only assume, because it also occurs to me that I might never actually learn everything there is to know about writing a book. Infinite learning. Which means, by my standards, infinite good!

And it’s also quite comforting, honestly, coming back to this project that I haven’t worked on for over 2 years and finding that I’m still connected to it in this way. Tallulah has taught me so much about myself as a writer, as a person in general, and even after this hiatus it seems I can just jump right back in and have things be exactly the same, like meeting an old friend after a long absence, one you know so well that your friendship is like muscle memory. And it reminds me that I don’t have this kind of relationship with any of my other books.

I’d like to change that.

I’m not sure of the full ramifications of what I’ve been realising over the course of the past 3 hours since finally finishing my notes on this despicably awfully-written chapter, but I want to find out.

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Camp Nanowrimo 2016 Redux: 1824

It’s going okay.

So far, the chapter is flowing pretty well. The best part for me is seeing that in order to finish on time I only have to write about 2.5k words per day, as opposed to the just-under-3k I was anticipating. I am bad at math. But 2.5k words per day I think I can handle.

It’s been kind of interesting returning to this project after leaving it around the end of January; I kept trying until well into February but didn’t manage to get anything done. Coming back to it now isn’t quite as exciting, and I haven’t recaptured that sense of writing on the fly, winging it, pulling the story together without stopping to think about the parts I’m using, so long as they feel like they fit. So long as it feels like a story.

But, on the other hand, lately I’ve been feeling a return to the good old days, the very start of my “I’m going to be a Writer” career when I did write on the fly, but I was also interested in doing things my way rather than taking formulas that I was familiar with and building something out of that – at least not to the extent that I have been with this particular project. And this chapter is benefiting from a little bit of that, a touch of the idiosyncratic things I used to do and miss doing. I have spent a long time trying to follow the crowd, or at least what I perceive the crowd to be. I learnt a lot by doing that, and I think there’s still more to learn. But I also think I’ve spent too long trying to not do things my own way. And I think I can find a way to do both.

For now, though, I’m just going to finish this chapter. So far the exposition has been fairly easy to show-don’t-tell, if not at a particularly impressive reading-level. But that’s not the point, of course. It’s getting written, and considering that not too long ago I had pretty much resigned myself to leaving this story in its unfinished state and assuming that I would never be able to come up with a satisfying way to put the final pieces together, it goes to show that, when it comes to writing, you need to remember to take a break every once in a while.

Since I’ve got 1.8k words already, I think I’ll try and push it up to that 2.5k mark. I might rediscover whatever I tapped into when I first started writing it. But if not, at least it’ll be more words. And with a first draft, that’s really the only thing that matters.

Itty littlebit tinysmall

I have to write Tallulah.

I have a morbid desire to go through this blog and embarrass myself by counting up every time I’ve made some grand sweeping statement about how I’m going to write Tallulah, because I’m pretty sure that’s about half the posts on this blog – but seriously, I have to fucking write Tallulah.

I haven’t encouraged myself to write my incredibly generative werewolf YA impulse-write novel since the shit went down with missing my flight to Malaysia and scrambling to see if there was anything I could do about it, nor did I get myself to work on let alone submit my Masters proposal, which I have to get done today if I want to retain any shred of dignity I have left. I mean okay I’ll live but I just hate not being on top of things that I feel I should be able to be on top of. And Tallulah is one of them.

I’ve known a few things about Tallulah for a very, very long time: Tallulah started off as a very, very small idea and simply due to spending as much time on it as I have it has become a magnet for every inspired idea I’ve thrown at it and is now being drowned under its own weight; there is too much going on that has nothing to do with the heart of the story and, while I could continue to chip away at it until it’s sculpted into something resembling a coherent story, it’s not a story I actually want to tell; there are three main antagonists and they all get in each other’s way and clog up the narrative flow; I have a lot of darlings inhabiting my grand scheme for this book and can’t think of anywhere else to put them and that’s why I’ve permitted them to hold up my progress for this long; I want a more upbeat and simultaneously darkly humorous verison of this story that incorporates all of my darlings but don’t have the energy to make myself write that version of the story; so much of what I like about the story is comprised of stand-alone scenes and ideas in my head that aren’t actually motivated by storytelling, just the “it’d be cool/profound/angsty as fuck if” factor that they possess … I know all of this, and have known it for a long time. But while I don’t know how to get out of this gunky mess I’ve found myself in, I know that I want to. I know that I do actually still want to write this story, despite all the frustrations and self-imposed roadblocks I’ve had to deal with. I guess maybe it’s just been long enough that I’ve recovered from my stumbles and have some of my momentum and enthusiasm back – in which case: awesome. I know I can rely on that happening with other projects in the future.

I want to write this book and tell this story. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.

I’ve said multiple times that Tallulah is a very small story that I’ve allowed to become bloated. It’s not like there aren’t ways to make that version of the story work; it’s that I haven’t even bothered to try writing any of them, and I cannot be fucked doing so. That’s because this is yet another “wouldn’t it be cool if X” thought-experiment as opposed to an actual story that I have in mind.

However, through writing my shitty YA werewolf impulse-write novel, I have learnt the incredible value of distinguishing between the ideas that I have that are motivated by a desire to tell a story, and the ideas that are motivated by the desire to just think about how cool said ideas are. It’s like the difference between wanting to actually discuss something and just reblogging an interesting article: the motive is everything. If you talk about social justice online long enough, as I have, the very idea of intention almost becomes repulsive, a cowardly excuse waiting to happen. But, I mean, intention matters. It has to matter. There are some things it cannot and should not ever excuse, which is where social justice comes into play, but aside from very dire circumstances it has to matter, because we have to see each other as human. I’m digressing though – my point is that for writing and storytelling, for planning a story, intention is everything. It’s the difference between jotting down a few notes in a Word document and actually sitting down to tell the story itself.

Because it gives your ideas purpose. It gives them a role. I’ve talked about how playing Dungeons and Dragons really helped me to hone my storytelling skills, and it’s because playing Dungeons and Dragons gets you to think a LOT about intentionality. In order to prepare an adventure to lead other players through, for instance, you need to know each player’s character’s skills and abilities, think of what’s going to be an interesting and engaging play experience for them where their unique group dynamic as well as their individual skills are not just put to the test but also given opportunities to shine, how to break an adventure into different stages so that it’s not just immediate gratification and they actually have a sense of having earned something by the end of it. You have to plan like a motherfucker, and the thing is that not only will D&D teach you how to do it, but it will also teach you that it’s fun. It is fun to plot out the stages of an adventure, to set up an end goal and then work out how to cut it up into little pieces and have them all run together in a chain of dominoes, the triggering of one setting off the next one right up until the final piece falls into place, like springing a trap, only instead of dying you get closure and resolution (and loot).

The one big adventure that I never quite got around to setting up was to have the players enter a dungeon where a Lich was seeking to overpower a dragon that had shacked up there. The end reward was obviously going to be treasure, and the most obvious obstacle was the dragon. The Lich, however, couldn’t do anything without its phylactery, so it had the players go around and find all the different jars that contained its organs. Each jar would be guarded by a different kind of hazard, and each time a jar was returned to the Lich the players got to progress further into the dungeon. But each time they progressed, they also learnt something about the dungeon that ultimately led to realising that the Lich was actually trying to get to the dragon and turn it into a zombie dragon under its control, and that the dragon was the dungeon’s original owner. The players would then be left with the option of pitting the two against each other, trying to sabotage the Lich and find a way to steal the treasure from the dragon, trying to convince the dragon to help them kill the Lich and spare their lives, or some other thing. The open-endedness that works for a game obviously doesn’t work quite as well in a static story, but learning the importance of staging has been one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt as a writer, and I wish I’d kept that skill more honed than it currently is.

All of this comes back to the problem of not really having a story in mind for Tallulah, which is, I now understand, the main reason why I’m just not motivated to write it: it’s not a story. It’s a bunch of ideas, and ideas fulfill their function perfectly fine just by being thought about. You don’t have to put them into action for them to serve their purpose. But a story is different, because it needs to be told before it can actually be a story, even if you only tell it to yourself. And that’s what I don’t have with Tallulah.

So is it a matter of trying to force myself to see this new, darkly humorous version of Tallulah that completely changes the tone as a story when it currently just isn’t in my mind? Is it a matter of trying to “roll back” my progress, return to the very small, simple story I originally had and force myself to only write that – to force myself to write exactly what’s on my mind, as that’s what worked with my werewolf thing? Is it a matter of biting the bullet and continuing with what I’ve got written so far just because it’s easier and I want to move on to the next thing? Is it a matter of starting over from scratch again and waiting until I do have a story worth telling?

Because another part of this unsolved equation is the fact that I don’t like the idea of having to rewrite a bunch of stuff that I’ve already written, particular lines and sentences that work well that I don’t want to have to find new ways to say, or risk saying less interestingly than I already have. Which I can compensate for by copy and pasting, obviously, but for that to work I need to know exactly which bits I need, and because I really don’t have a story in mind yet I don’t know what those bits are.

Thus far, I know one thing that will work:

  • Write exactly what I have in mind

And combined with needing to have a story to tell for me to be motivated, I guess the plan is to wait until I have a story in mind, and then write it.

Um.

Wow.

Seriously?

Did it seriously take me three and a half fucking years to work that one out?

I guess it did.

Doesn’t feel like it’s helping.

There is a chapter that I want to write. I think that this is actually the best bet for me: write the chapter, because it’s what I have in mind, and because the chapter itself is kind of like a mini-story. It’s a chapter from the latest version of the story that I think would be cool, not necessarily the story that I want to tell, but I do want to tell this part of it and, since I don’t really have a better alternative, I may as well do that and see if it leads anywhere productive. It might. And if not, well, I can at least be certain of it.

I don’t think I actually learnt anything. I just made a decision. But when it comes to this book, making a decision is fucking phenomenal.

Okay. Let’s write.

Old Habits: Tallulah’s Progress P3

It has been a long time, like 2 years long, since I wrote an iteration of a chapter of Tallulah instead of forging ahead with what I had and crossing my fingers, hoping that it would turn out for the best.

I’m going to do that tonight for two reasons: 1) it’s a good attitude to adopt, I’ve found, getting used to the idea of treating your drafting process as a chance to, y’know, draft; and 2) starting off the way you intend to finish is also a good habit to get into.

Despite it not being the new, more light-hearted, humourous version of Tallulah I got excited over at the start of the year, I like what I wrote a few nights ago. It’s introspective, it’s angsty, it tries to articulate deeply intimate and convoluted emotions, and I want to have it available to me in case I want it again in the future. But it’s also not part of the story that I want to tell right now. That story is more light-hearted and humourous, and I owe it to myself to give it a shot and see if I can make it work. That, after all, was the entire premise behind my even attempting to write Tallulah to begin with: it was a story that I didn’t know if I could tell faithfully, an idea that seemed like it was supposed to have come out of somebody else’s imagination, an idea that I thought could easily end up being “ruined” if I tried to tell it for the fact that it was totally unlike any idea I’d ever had before, totally alien to my sensibilities at the time. That fact alone was enough of a reason for me to try, to test the limits of my imagination – and confidence. And the experiment was successful in that I do feel much more confident to try out ideas that I’m uncertain about, ideas that don’t feel like they’re mine, like they should have come out of somebody else’s imagination – because they didn’t. They came out of my imagination, and there must be a reason for that.

The same principle, I think, can apply to this new version of Tallulah that I want to try out. It’s kind of the opposite, taking this idea that wasn’t at all “like me” and making it more like me – an older version of me, a younger me who was very much about humour and dynamism rather than introspective philosophising, but tempered with experience of how darkness and humour mix together in real life, the kinds of reactions that come about as a consequence of their combination. Tallulah has been a very introspective story right from the start, and while I don’t want to lose that, I do think it needs lightening – not because it’s “too dark”, but because that darkness risks losing its meaning if there’s nothing to contrast it with. I guess I’m afraid that it doesn’t have an “edge”, and what sharper edge could there be for a body of darkness than something that traditionally serves as an opposite – in this case, humour?

There’s always the risk that it’ll backfire and come off as really inappropriate. There is some very dark stuff in Tallulah, and the last thing I want is to turn that dark stuff into humour. That’s not the intention. The intention – and the hope – is that I can use humour to give that darkness more of an edge, and a very particular edge: the edge of self-deprecation. Because self-deprecation is a survival mechanism, and among other things, Tallulah is a story about survival, about coping. Hopefully it comes out that way when I write it.

I still want to know if I can tell the story of Tallulah that came to me several years ago, the idea that I never thought I was even capable of having. But I now also think that the way I tell that story is through embracing my own way of telling stories, rather than trying to turn myself into a different storyteller for the sake of an existential experiment. I love imitation; I am still trying to get comfortable with doing that in my own work, because the most fun I’ve ever had in creating – and telling – stories always came with a lot of carefree copying. In that sense, the challenge of adopting a totally alien voice to tell a story with is still an appealing one, just to prove that I can do it. But while appealing, it’s not important to me. Tallulah is. Telling my story is, even if, to begin with, it didn’t feel like my story at all.

So I guess I’ll try it and see what the end result is. Having said all of this I really haven’t given much thought to how I’d write this new light-hearted, humourous version of Tallulah; as per usual all of my preliminary planning is mapped out in cinematic sequences, images and sound and camera angles rather than words. I have rather put myself on the spot with this decision. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Nothing like being put on the spot for creativity.

That’s a saying, right?

Nanowrimo continues: words miraculously appear in Word document

After going back and trying to inject a little bit more High Fantasy writing convention into my High Fantasy Nanowrimo project, I came away roughly doubling my word count from yesterday; I’m now at 1222 words, and will be writing more this evening – wanna see if I can’t pump it up to a nice even 2k. Writing in 2k-word segments just kinda feels good. That’s an average undergrad final essay.

I also ended up doing some drawing, that thing I keep telling myself I need to get good at in order to feel better about myself, and it was nice. Having visual aides is one of the great things about High Fantasy, where not only do you get the ubiquitous inside-cover map, but sometimes even illustrations by John Howe or Alan Lee. Whoever decided that pictures in books should only be for kids is a miserable asshole.

I would totally illustrate this book (and all my books) if I could do so to a standard that I was personally happy with, and not just because having a book for adults with honest-to-Frigga pictures in it would be a fantastic gimmick. Pictures just add that little bit of attention, I feel – while I love full-page spreads as much as the next person, one of my favourite type of illustrations is the lineart that happens in the margins, or that interrupts the text, forcing it into interesting shapes to accomodate the space that the illustration takes up, blending the two together in what is at once a glaringly obvious and completely seamless manner. I like illustrations that interact with the written text of the book, and basically do what comics do in treating that written text as a pictoral element, not just looking at grammar and syntax but also font size, font shape, and placement on the page. The dedication that opens The Deathly Hallows is a very ostentatious (though I think appropriate) use of this, where instead of Align Left or Justify it’s a lightning-bolt zig-zag down the page. I mean if it wasn’t the final book in the franchise I might have been a bit disapproving of how gimmicky it was, but it was the last book in the franchise, and for that reason I think it was completely appropriate.

I wonder how you’d factor illustrations into a word-count …

Going back and making the chapter a bit more High Fantasy conventional turned out to be … well, it was fairly easy, but that’s partly because I went back and realised that I didn’t actually have the wrong idea; it just could have been implemented better. I did take the time to explain the setting a bit, even tying it in with character-relevant information, but without getting all Prologue-y about it. It’s a very brisk kind of introduction to the world, and part of that is because, rather than explaining why things are they way they are, I’m just saying “here this is a thing please enjoy”; but I’m hoping that the words I’m using and the way I’m using them will entice readers to apply their imaginations to the setting and fill in the blanks that way, rather than having to pull a Tolkien to get my ideas across. As to whether I’ve been successful – only time and beta-readers will tell.

But I’m glad I wrote about my problems with the project and then went back and rewrote a little – I’d hardly written anything as it was, and it does feel a lot more solid for the edit. And I’m almost up to 2k words already.

… and stopping at just over 1900, simply because it’s a natural stopping-point. Cool. So that’s 1300+ words written today; that’s double what I wrote yesterday! We have the beginnings of a positive trend, folks.

I suppose I wish I’d started Nanowrimo ten days ago when I said I was going to, but now that the ball’s rolling it doesn’t really matter. It’s getting done, and at least when it comes to art, that’s all that ever really matters.

Cold feet reprise

No. I did not go and revise my novel like I said I would.

Now that that’s out of the way: I did spend that day and the next writing. It’s something I’ve been writing for about two years, and it’s very easy to sink time into writing. Is it good writing? Fuck no. Like, along no possible metric could this ever be considered good writing. I don’t think. Perhaps I’m wrong. But it’s writing, whatever the quality, and I did a lot of it.

Like 20k words in 2 days.

All right I’ll clarify: it’s erotica, for lack of a better word; and no, I don’t have the slightest idea how to write that kind of stuff. But that’s not really my point. My point is that I decided very early on in writing this thing that every significant event that happened in the story had to revolve around a sex scene. Why? Because it was already ridiculous, so I figured I might as well make it even more ridiculous, just embrace the inanity and see what I came up with.

The odd thing is that it actually works. Need the character to have a revelation about something? Sex scene. Need the stakes to suddenly go up? Sex scene. Plot twist? Sex scene. Filler? Sex scene. Exposition?

Come to think of it I haven’t actually gone the old HBO “sexposition” route yet; maybe I need to reconsider that …

But my point is that I just wrote this damn thing; it was and is utterly terrible and will never see the light of day, and it got written, in all of its repetitive, formulaic, contrived glory. I got so ridiculously wrapped-up in it and spent a lot of time re-writing just because it wasn’t formulaic and contrived enough. And as a result, I got very comfortable with forcing events into the service of a clear narrative. There is nothing quite like forcing yourself to arbitrarily follow a certain set of rules for getting really well-acquainted with those rules, because you have to make sure that every single thing you do ties back to them.

So by the time I ran out of steam and went back to look at my revision plan for Tallulah

It really struck me just how … narrativised I’ve made it.

I’ve written before about how Tallulah was originally not so much a story as a story-seed, a premise, almost a static image that offered the possibility of a story, the way you can find an old photograph and wonder what was going on at the time, starting to draw conclusions based on the very limited amount of hard data and your own imagination. The zero draft was me just having ideas and writing them as they came to me. The first revision was taking the result of that and trying to chisel it into the shape of a story, and this second revision was to be more of the same.

But after looking it over, after reading my plan back to myself and even with the idea of making as few changes as possible while still making it flow better, I started to really, seriously doubt the value of making this story the kind of story that I’ve been trying to turn it into.

I can remember first starting out and drawing a line in the sand between my precious Tallulah and the Superhero Narrative, or what I deemed to be the Superhero Narrative, which is more or less the Spider-Man formula: young person discovers powers, young person has to learn how to cope with said powers in their everyday life (keeping secrets from loved ones, juggling that secrecy with moral obligations due to the power they now wield), and eventually somebody else with powers comes along who is evil and they have to fight, using their respective powers. It’s all very … power-full. And I did not want that, at all.

Yet it’s exactly what’s happened. And it’s not like it’s a bad thing; there are plenty of enjoyable Superhero Narratives and I’m sure I could have plenty of fun writing one, but it’s struck me now that the revision I’ve got doesn’t tell a clean story, and I might not want it to. What it does currently is tell a non-narrative story in the way a narrative-driven story ought to be told, and it just kinda hurts to look at. It feels bad. I’ve got this thing that isn’t written properly one way or the other, taking the worst parts of both because it’s not sure how to be the one it wants to be and hates having to settle for the one it thinks is easier to become.

Basically, it needs a major overhaul, and I just need to make up my damn mind about which direction to take it in. I can tell the narrative story, in which case it’s a major tonal overhaul, or I can tell the character-driven story, in which case it’s a major content overhaul. This will not be a small, easy task is my point; it might even be a from-scratch rewrite, because what I’ve got now just seems so lost and tangled-up in its confusion that trying to use it might end up doing more harm than good, even though on the face of it it means I don’t have to do as much work.

And this might mean that I can’t use Nanowrimo to write my fun stupid YA thing. Damn.

Actually no. I’ll still do it. Perhaps what this has taught me is that I actually do need to go write some other shit so that when I do come back to Tallulah, I’ll have some perspective on how to make it better, which direction I want to take it in out of this uncomfortable hybrid slump.

Ugh.

I will still make a revision plan; I’ll simplify the one I’ve got so that not too much is changed, and I’ll either leave it at a plan or carry it through, depending on how I go with these research essays. This plan is definitely the “narrative plan”, and maybe I’ll write it and find that I do actually like this story as a more narrative=driven piece. Or maybe I’ll hate it and wish I hadn’t wasted all this time trying to force it to work. I can only find out one way.

Also my last two university blog assignments have been hella late, one of them right now still overdue and unwritten, and grr fuck time-management why do you hate me.

I do think I need to write other things. A plan is not its execution. It might be that, in practice, my revision plan actually works really well. And I mean there’s nothing wrong with having gone in the exact direction I was dead-set against going in at the beginning. I don’t owe it to anyone or anything to reverse that decision for purity or consistency or whatever. It’s just that there was a reason for my not wanting to do it this way, and it was a good reason, and because of how uncomfortable the story is right now I’m thinking that maybe it was the correct decision and I just didn’t make it, or wasn’t focused enough to try and make it.

Yeah. Definitely need to write something else for a while.

 

Bigger = Better?

Time for a post that isn’t a resurrected nearly-forgotten draft.

I remember – well, I’m trying to remember – when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire first came out. (The book, mind you. The less said about that film the better.) I was so excited at the prospect of all the story I was about to ingest in one sitting; I’d recently come away from Prisoner of Azkaban very pleased, except for the despairing premonition that my favourite character, Lupin, would probably never show up again (which made me resent Sirius more than I might have otherwise, as it was clear to me that this was the character I as a reader was meant to care about but fuck that shit I’m hungry like the wolf all day erry day anyway what), and if that book was mind-blowing awesome and was only about 300 pages, then how amazingly awesome would this book be, clocking in at over twice the length?

Well, not only was I wrong about the length, but although the first time reading through was pretty great, just because the longer word-count meant I got an extended trip to the witching and wizarding world (I know it’s just the wizarding world but that shit be sexist) (yes I also know the term “wizard” can apply to men and women but that’s not how it works in the Potterverse so nope still sexist) (also what about non-binary magical folk wait this is fantasy what am I thinking), subsequent readings started to expose some … flaws, shall we say.

Namely that a lot of what happened just wasn’t that important. Or interesting.

Who the fuck is Ludo Bagman?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was my favourite book, period, for quite some time after it came out. It was better put-together than Goblet of Fire, it had higher stakes, and most importantly it was angsty as fuck, as was I at the time, being 16 years old and having zero things about myself that I liked, other than a best friend who everybody seemed to like. So I very much related to Harry’s uncontrollable, seemingly baseless fury, and the dark thoughts that came along with it – whether it meant that something was wrong with me and I was just stuck that way, whether I’d turn out to be a bad person, etc. Fun times.

And then the next two came out and I’d grown up a little bit – key word being “little” – and the delicious angst wasn’t quite as hooky for me. But the length of the books most certainly was. I lapped that shit up. If Deathly Hallows had been 1k pages long I would still have read it in one sitting; the length was like a gift, a prolonged vacation. And because of these goddamn books, it was a rule of thumb for me that if a book was large, it was probably better than a smaller book.

But more specifically, and the reason I’m posting this at all: my books had to be large, so that they could have more excitement and more adventure and more intrigue and suspense and romance and comedy (well, not so much the comedy in the twilight of my teen years actually) and just more everything in general.

There are a number of artistic influences that I have that I would say are “bad”. One of those is Dragon Ball Z, and the reason I call that a bad artistic influence is because DBZ is, in many ways, the most imaginatively bankrupt media I have ever come across. I mean yes, there is far worse out there than DBZ and to this day I remain a distant fan, but also to this day I cannot disentangle myself from the horrible fight choreography, combatants standing around for a thousand years while their opponent screams in constipation while preparing some universe-collapsing ki attack and not doing anything to stop them, and worst of all, this is the education that I had in thinking up fight choreography for my stories. Worst of all: this even crept into my magic systems, whereby somehow, some way, the main character magic-user would have some kind of Kamehameha equivalent. Because laser beams just scream “magic”.

Ugh.

Another one would have to be The Matrix – the trilogy, not the amazing first film. That trilogy got me started on my “try really hard to be deep” phase, mixed with my DBZ adrenalin-junkie habits and produced a truly awful cocktail of Nietzschean postmodern rambling set to a soundtrack by Linkin Park.

Another one was Final Fantasy X, which I still love, but it was also my introduction to the more mind-bendingly strange aspects of Japanese storytelling conventions and … well, it was a far fucking cry from the “my strength is stronger” narrative of DBZ, and did absolutely nothing to change my ideas about how fighting should work, except that now people were using oversized weapons. (I’ll actually add the Dynasty Warriors franchise to my list of bad influences on understanding combat.) And anime in general was just not good for my artistic development; Cowboy Bebop became a good influence, but only recently when I was old enough to realise that it’s not as deep and sophisticated as I thought I was too stupid to comprehend when I was a teenager, but still very cool.

Big Books Are Better may be the worst one though. All the rest of that stuff is about content; this is about delivery. My attitude towards storytelling was to measure a story in “number of books in the series”, and it got to the point where I would plan out the number of books and their approximate length before I’d even come up with a basic plot – I would imagine empty books into being and then try to fill them with something. There’s putting the horse before the cart, and then there’s just pushing the cart downhill and running to try and hop into it before it crashes into the valley floor, and then there’s what I tried to do between the ages of 17-20.

Thankfully, once I hit 20-ish and came out of my D&D phase with the actually-useful storytelling and narrative structuring skills I developed through learning role-playing mechanics and how to design an adventure for players, my attitude towards storytelling had changed once more; now it was all about how many individual moving parts I could work into an overarching narrative, how many sub-objectives the main quest of the characters consisted of, and how to make it tell a story all the way through, how to get each mini-objective to add something to the final objective, so that by the time the characters got there they had done more than just complete a bunch of quests for xp, and the final objective was far more than the sum of its parts. I cannot stress enough how fucking useful role-playing games are for storytelling; I think it was good that I kicked the habit and went back to storytelling, but getting used to applying role-playing mechanics is fantastic conceptual and practical training for creating coherent and engaging narratives.

But the size fetish never went away. Because I now knew how to drag things out, in that I was confident in my ability to get creative with how I could organise a story around a specific objective and then break that objective down into multiple mini-objectives, perhaps infinitely, if anything the size fetish got even … fetishy?

You get the picture; I was drunk with power, and somewhere around that time I finally found my voice, started coming up with stories that really felt like my stories, rather than sad, transparent attempts to compete with my at-the-time-best-friend Joey. The most invigorating of these stories was the last thing I tried in earnest to write before Tallulah, a dark fairytale thing called Mark and Jessie’s Christmas that I have mentioned a couple of times over the course of this blog, and which I still really want to write. This book was the catalyst for a paradigm-shift not just in how I told stories, but in how I valued myself as a person. Perhaps not totally coincidentally, it would not be long after that point that Joey and I would go our separate ways, and I would be filled with a euphoric, adventurous, I-finally-remember-who-I-am relief that would last for a good six months if you include the way I desperately tried to cling to that feeling and force it to last longer than it was supposed to – but that’s a story for another time.

My point in bringing up Mark and Jessie as this huge paradigm-shifting catalytic event in my life is that despite all of that, despite how drastically different it was to any story I’d ever come up with before – and at the same time much more similar to the stories I’d come up with in my adolescence, at least in terms of the philosophy of “follow your bliss” or whatever – a big part of the appeal to me was thinking about how big I could make it, how much stuff I could cram into it – how long I could make it last.

At that point in my life, the extended vacation bliss of the Potterverse had somewhat waned in and of itself, but the general longing for a place that I could be transported to for as long as it took to become totally immersed in it, and then some, was perhaps stronger than it’s ever been; thinking back on it now it makes a lot of sense, seeing as I’d just platonically broken up with somebody I’d had in my life for almost a decade, certainly all throughout what are conventionally deemed the “formative years”. I needed an emotional crutch to fill the void, and as relieved as I was to be back to my “old self”, or as close to as I’d been in almost a decade, the sense of loss was – while immensely, almost unbearably relieving – still a loss that needed to be recognised and accommodated. So Mark and Jessie’s Christmas became that crutch, the home of my romantic childhood nostalgia, the interface through which I accessed my past self and tried to bridge the gap of almost-a-decade between past and present, cutting out the middleman of my entire teenage experience and replacing it with something that didn’t make me want to sink into a hole and rot into oblivion.

The first draft clocked in at 169,474 words. That’s almost as long as The Fellowship of the Ring, and about 500 words longer than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Book-size still very much mattered to me, because it was the best way I knew to have power over space and time – namely, how I could directly turn space into time. The longer the book, the more time I’d get to spend with the story inside, and Mark and Jessie had become my vital playground, the life-support I didn’t realise I was relying on. Or at least not as much as it’s apparent to me now, looking back.

Tallulah‘s first draft weighs in at 124,586 words, and that was bloated enough. I wonder what I’ll discover upon going back to Mark and Jessie – I did read it once, and I think I was rather impressed by how much actually happened, though how much of it actually contributes to the telling of a coherent story is something I’ll have to gauge when I finally have time to revisit it.

Currently Tallulah is 86,001 words long. That’s including the 20-something-thousand new words I wrote, so ultimately I pretty much cut it in half, and it’s still messy and has too much filler. I’m fairly happy with the length. And I tried to get it to 80k semi-intentionally when I revised it; after I had finished the revision and saw the word-count I gave in and decided that it was going to be YA, just because it fit pretty well without even trying. I think I did a fairly decent job for a first revision, and I can definitely trim it even more to make it fit the standard. That’s what I’m after now.

Or I was, until I started reading it again. Until I started remembering all the possibilities hinted at throughout the first half that get completely shut down in the second as I wait and wait but never see any of them expanded upon. Until I started remembering how attached I was to all of the side-characters, and all the ways I’d thought up in which they could actually contribute to the story, if only it were a little longer …

And now it’s coming back, but this time it could – could – be a good thing. Because writing to a word-count, while fantastic for a writing exercise and mandatory for academic pieces, is so … clinical. I am not trying to dis anybody who writes to word-counts, because that’s how the industry works and it would be nice if we could get paid for doing all of this fucking work after all. I’m still thinking of a word-count – I’m just thinking of a higher one, the 100-120k of Fantasy rather than the 60-80k of YA.

Because this story works best, to my mind, if told in one fell swoop, rather than being stretched out over a series. I do have ideas for a series, but I don’t want to have to use them. They feel kind of forced, and the last thing I want is to go back to putting the cart before the horse and push it off a cliff after setting it on fire and filling it with TNT. I want this to be a single story. It’s definitely Urban Fantasy if it counts as Fantasy at all, but maybe that’s enough. Or maybe I’m just such a boss-ass writer that my stunning prose will have publishers begging me for the privilege of publishing my 175k-word debut opus.

But unlike my sordid history of fetishizing book-length, this time I’m thinking of making it longer because I have more story to tell rather than the other way around. I’m not saying I definitely have 100k words’ worth of story here; I can’t measure that until it’s written. Not to mention all of the filler I have yet to scoop out and replace with actual story. But I do think it’s longer than what I’ve currently got. And yes, I’m totally excited at the prospect of having a chance to give those beloved sub-plots and supporting characters a place in the flowerbed, as it were. You can learn a lot of things from the flowers.

It’s not June anymore though, so maybe it doesn’t count.

Ultimately: bigger is not, in and of itself, better. I’ve had a lot of fun reading shorter stories recently, and just for the sake of discipline I think I could stand to benefit from creating narratives within a narrower space than I’m used to.

Bigger isn’t automatically better.

But when it’s better, it’s a lot better. There is nothing quite like getting completely lost in a good book, and knowing that you don’t have to leave, not yet. There is nothing quite like knowing that there’s room for a little more.