Novels of Epic Length

I keep meaning to post about my novel but the list of things to do around here never ends. Anyway, I’m not going to go through every single revelation I’ve had about this particular writing project and/or writing in general because that could easily end up being the length of a novel itself, but I do want to talk about some of the major things.

Partway through the residency I realized that I wasn’t telling just one story. I was trying to tell three stories in one novel. This realization was both a relief and a cause for worry. On the one hand I was relieved to know that I could pick one story to focus on instead of trying to cram a bazillion characters and situations into one. On the other hand I was a bit ashamed to think that maybe what I have is the beginnings of a trilogy. I mean, everyone who writes fantasy seems to write in trilogies and isn’t it pretentious to assume that what you’re writing is interesting enough to make into not one, but three books? So I’ve decided for the moment to just focus on the story at hand and worry about the rest of it later. I don’t even know if I can make it through this book with the amount of time I spend despairing about it.

I’ve developed a pattern of swinging back and forth between confidence and utter hopelessness which is worrying me. In my darker moments I lose my ability to rationalize and I stop being able to function as well as I usually do which results in a great deal of wasted time. Mostly I feel overwhelmed by my choices and all the things I need to think about or try to convey. It’s depressing to me that I’ve worked on this novel for so long only to realize now how off base I was with so much of it. Until the residency it never occurred to me to think of the histories of my characters, that they might have a life beyond the pages of my story that might affect their decisions. I didn’t even think that deeply about where they were and how that might influence events. I didn’t ask why my characters would do certain things or make sure that every action had a cause and effect, that each thing that happened stemmed from something else. I basically just created an endless stream of what I thought were funny or interesting incidents. I said to myself: these are all the things I want to have happen so I will just make them happen and not think any more about it.

Part of my problem is that I wrote this story originally as a short story so I wanted to base much of it off of that. I didn’t want to change things or develop things or think about anything at all, lol. I wanted to keep the same tone, the same characters, and scenes. I’m actually amazed looking at it now how much has changed, especially after considering some drastic changes to the beginning. I nearly gave up on it today and emailed my advisor to ask if I could work on something else. But I finally sat myself down and told myself to ignore what I had before and just rewrite it, letting go of the old words, phrases, jokes, whatever.

One thing my advisor wants me to focus on is delving deeper into the minds of the characters because my omniscient narrator is all over the place at the moment. I have to admit that this has been one of the problems adding to my despair. I just don’t know how to make the omniscient narrator work without telling instead of showing and every time I pick up a book I love as an example I’m struck by how much they break the rules which just confuses me further. Anyway, after angsting about it this morning I decided to write a section in close third to see what it felt like and it was very enlightening to slow down and let my protagonist think and react to things.

I always thought when people talked about killing their darlings that they meant certain lines or phrases. I realize now that sometimes huge chunks need to go, perhaps even chunks of the original idea itself. But then, I used to think revision meant line edits, lol. I’ve never done such drastic revisions in my life.

I’m trying to see it as play, as my advisor put it. Just playing around with ideas and techniques that I can always reject or jettison later, but it’s hard. I suppose if anything I’m learning humility. I’m actually embarrassed to admit all these things in such a public space because they are so basic to writing. I feel as though I should have known these things already and I wish I had started thinking more deeply about writing at an earlier age. On the other hand, at least I am learning and isn’t it better to realize these things now rather than later?

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