Collecting Questions

Well, the biggest update on the novel-writing front, as anybody on my list of Supercool Awesome Wonderful Glorious People is well aware of thanks to an e-mail of probably unnecessary length, is that I have decided to open my current draft to the eyes of anybody who is interested in seeing it in its current and still very rough state. If you don’t happen to be on that list, but would like an incredibly detailed explanation of this decision, ask me and I’ll send you the e-mail. I will try very hard not to reproduce it here and cause potential mental short-circuiting in the minds of the aforementioned S.A.W.G.P.s by causing them to read through it twice.

As a brief summary for posterity’s sake (SAWGPs, skip to the next paragraph, now, I urge you!!!), basically I realized how much more thought and effort and above all time is going to be required to get the novel into the kind of state I wanted it to be in before I showed people. But I was feeling guilty that I kept promising to show it to people and then putting off the date when I would do so, and I was putting a little unnecessary pressure on myself to do some quick fixes to make it readable rather than just allowing the revision process to flow naturally. So I decided to offer people the option of reading what I have now if they really wanted to, with the caveat that it’s quite rough and I will have a more polished draft available for reading in a couple of months, and the expectation that not a lot of people would have the courage to request the current draft, especially after reading the rambling monstrosity that was the mere e-mail extending the offer.

Within twenty-four hours of the sending of that e-mail offer, I am shocked at the fact that I have already received two or three times the number of requests for the current draft than I ever expected to get. This was pretty amazing, and incredibly encouraging, to me. Also perplexing. I don’t think you guys realize quite what you’re getting yourselves into. But I really do greatly appreciate your interest and openness. Collectively and individually, you rock my extra-planetary solar system.

Also, if you got the e-mail but decided not to request the current draft and are feeling guilty about that fact now that you’re reading this blog post, please don’t. Not only am I understanding of whatever factors went into your decision not to do so, but I am also selfishly glad that there are some of you still out there, because I would love to have some people see the next, more polished draft with totally fresh eyes, unbiased by having read the first draft. So, people are necessary and exceedingly helpful at all points in the process, and I am mainly grateful for your support and thoughts and above all your presence in my life.

So, what have I been doing with my writing time the past week that has revealed to me how much work the revision process is going to entail? Well, at the end of last week I finished, for the moment at least, the exploration of my antagonist’s background, character, and personal history, which ended up being about 6000 words long and also helped me a lot with clarifying things about the different cities and their philosophies, and some of the themes that I want to deal with through the story.

After finishing that, I dove headlong into the novel itself, starting at page one and reading through, changing things that I didn’t like as they jumped out at me. The first chapter is actually the most clear and polished, because I rewrote it about six times before I finally moved on to the rest of the story, which I then dashed through rapidly to meet the various word deadlines I had set for myself. Nevertheless, I proceeded to further fix up minor hiccups in sentence structure and random details, for about a day, until I realized that that might not be the best way to approach the revision process, as there were still sweeping issues of plot and theme that needed to be addressed.

I began compiling a list of the questions I need to really take some time to ponder and answer before I will know enough about the story to make the bigger structural changes. A lot of these I had just been storing in my head, and others I had jotted down in various places. As I brought them together, I organized them (finally, it’s the J’s turn to take a crack at this writing process) into various major categories: Things to Ponder, Things to Research, Things to Incorporate, and Things to Revise. Within these major categories I further divided things into sub-categories: Environment, Society, Thinkers, Characters, Plot, Ideas, Themes, and Prose.

Examples of the types of questions I was collecting (a random selection):

  • City layout—Allyria/Damask. What are differences? What are important parts of society? What things are near each other? Relative sizes. (Environment)
  • What is the social structure of the society like—jobs, economy, etc. What would the social, technological, and historical ramifications of the Thinker-ized reality be? (Society)
  • With isolated cities, what are the relationships of language/economy/etc.? How much do cities share? What are the differences between Damask and Allyria, and how are they manifested? (Society)
  • What does the Test want/believe, and how does it express these things? How does it approach the process of assigning Positions? How much does it know about people? Does it relate to them differently? How does it find out what they would be best suited for? (Thinkers)
  • Denis—what is his background/character? Flaws? What does he want? How does he contribute? How does he grow? What is important in his relationship with Will, how does the way he thinks affect the way Will thinks? (Characters)
  • Why does Will’s position as a garbage collector allow him to do what he does? What is important about the things he learns, the interactions he has, and the position it places him in? (Plot)

And on and on… Four pages and ninety-seven bullet points later (Yeah, if you were looking around for some bullet points yesterday and couldn’t find any, that’s where they all went. I may have used up the nation-wide quota single-handedly yesterday. My apologies…), I had still only scratched the surface of the need for further exploration. But it was a very helpful process, because it clarified for me all the blanks I need to fill in for myself in my own understanding of the world of the novel so that I can do what I need to in terms of restructuring and adding to the story.

I really think that’s the next step for me. I wrote the first draft running on the vaporous fuel of intuition and desperation, which was great and brought some fascinating things to the surface that I never would have achieved by structure and analytical thought. But now I think it’s time to think things through and back up what is happening with a more solid understanding of the nature of the places and people I am writing about.

So my current plan is, first of all, to read through my current draft in search of other questions in need of further contemplation and add them to my already-lengthy list (trying as I do so not to be thinking too hard about the fact that I actually sent this draft out to people and they might be reading it, so that I am not compelled to send them all daily apologies and revisions). Then I will take some time to just brainstorm, explore, imagine, and research, doing my best to answer the questions I have posed for myself and gain a really deep understanding of what is going on in this world I’ve created, and why.

Once I’ve answered most of those questions in sufficient detail, then I plan to take a look at the structure of the novel to see how things need to flow, what order things should happen in, where various revelations should occur, what scenes should happen and which ones are unnecessary, etc. After I’ve got that all worked out, I will turn to the more nitpicky details of detail and sentence structure. That’s the plan at the moment, at least.

I’m feeling quite good about the prospects of this process. It’s encouraging to me that I can see what needs to happen, and feel confident about doing it all. There’s a lot to be done, but I’ve really been able to mentally break it down step by step and see a clear path to getting it all done, rather than simply staring at this huge chunk of rough writing and wondering what to do next. I am also very excited about each of the steps, and feel confident that I will be able to achieve them as necessary.

I consider all of this clarity and confidence to be an amazing blessing, which doesn’t come of my own power at all but which I am incredibly thankful for. My only regret is that I can’t just sit down and proceed through it all without interruption until it’s done, because there is life to live and people to interact with and places to go. Of course all of these things are incredible blessings as well, and I know I would go insane within about eight hours if I was working only on the novel and nothing else, so it’s all for the best. That is just to express the eager excitement with which I am currently able to approach the revision process. Which is wonderful.


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