Thursday, October 30, 2014

Perils of the Writer: The Horrors of the Trunked Novels

I like to remind people that getting to the point where I am, with two novels coming out next year with a major publisher, was a journey.  Before I even wrote the first draft of Thorn of Dentonhill, I wrote two other novels.  Two novels which should never see the light of day.

So let's talk about them.

The Fifty Year War was a very bad attempt to emulate something akin to Isaac Asimov's Foundation, where the key events of a multi-generational war is told through a series of novelette-length vignettes.  Because nine 10k-ish novelettes equals one novel, right? 

Except not so much.  Let alone that there isn't so much a "plot" as there is "stuff that happens".  There isn't anything for readers to hook into.  The closest to a "main" character is an officer named Benton who has a key role in three or four of the sections, and then a minor cameo later.  The only other bit of recurring involves the various generations of a soldier family who keep getting killed in key battles.  That was my way of highlighting the toll on the 'average' man in this war: killing off pikemen named Weaver. 

When it comes down to it, Fifty Year War is essentially a chunk of Druth history that I had already worked out, setting the stage for the "real" time I wanted to write in.  So in a lot of ways, it comes off as a prequel to something that didn't exist, filled with the obvious piece-setting that prequels have, but making zero sense to anyone but myself.

So I would fix those mistakes with Crown of Druthal.  There I had a set cast of characters, so the readers would have main people to grab onto.  And I would have them... do... plot-like things? 

Yeah, not quite.

First problem with Crown comes down to the same challenge a lot of fantasy-worldbuilders face: I've made this whole world, and now I'm going to show it ALL TO YOUALL OF IT.  It was literally a travelogue with absolutely no McGuffin to chase from country to country.  The characters were the crew of a diplomatic ship more or less assigned to go on a world tour.  They were to go to each country so I could show you each country.  I totally had a whole multi-book series planned, and by "planned" that meant I knew which countries they would go to.  Which was a huge part of the problem, especially with Crown, the book I actually wrote.  I had to jam a series of events from "stuff that happens in country A" and "stuff that happens in country B" into something that looked like a plot for a single book.  But since I was far more interested in just touring both countries, the plot takes a good long while to get going.

The other problem is the story is loaded with characters who are essentially there to be set decoration.  I had a ship full of people, with different specialties and jobs, and most of them served absolutely no purpose in the story.  I did some logistical contortions to give most of them a toehold in the climax-- so a combination of telepathy, magic and celestial navigation is used to determine where my main character was being held captive, so then the guys with swords could mount a rescue. 

There are bits in Crown that I'm fond of, but it's mired in long sections where characters are more or less hanging out, taking at least half the book before the plot proper actually gets going.  And the plot itself?  Kind of a long way to drive to get a gallon of milk.

But in the process of writing these two trunked novels, I learned plenty about how to write a novel, how to structure character arcs and plots.  So: they're bad, they'll stay in the archives for all time, but they were vital to the process of eventually writing Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages

1 comment:

Glynn Stewart said...

I still have one novel that's buried in a digital trunk (I've got a few dirty looks over it, as apparently some of the folk who've read it like it.)

My usual 'trunk' reference is to various piles of those cashier notebooks I used for school for years.

There are two somewhere that combine to tell an extremely inconsistent, overly gory, excessively violent story that is basically a Redwall fanfic with machine guns and plot holes you could drop a planet through.

If I ever find those specific notebooks, I may just burn them in self-defense.

You're in good company XD