Expansion, that is the idea the novelist must cling to, not completion, not rounding off, but opening out.
- Edward Morgan Forster - Aspects of the Novel (1927)
Last year I talked about trying out NaNoWriMo in my blog. It turned out to be a wonderful challenge for Kenn, who is still working hard on his book and loving it. I, on the other hand, managed to pack enough trips and work into the month that I barely even started my own novel. It was a pretty pitiful showing, honestly. I think I managed about 5,500 words out of the 50,000 word goal. But I don’t feel too bad about the loss. It was a gamble to begin with, knowing my own writing process, and it did give me some valuable insights into my story’s background and outline.
I’ve read a lot of blogs, books, and articles where authors explain their methods of writing. Some, like Maria V. Snyder write from the hip, coming up with each piece of the story as it unfolds. For them, writing is as much a process of discovering what happened next as it is for the reader. For other authors, a novel requires a lot of planning, organization, maps, outlines, reworking, and sticky-notes. I definitely fall into the later category.
My story is about a woman who makes a fatal mistake because of her pride, and is faced with the option of dying knowing she has failed her people, or sacrificing her soul to save them. The book starts with her sacrifice. From there the story is very much an adventure with a race against time. Typical of epic fantasy, there are a lot of interwoven plots and character backgrounds. Also typical of the genre, things rarely go according to plan.
Originally, when I started writing this story years ago, it was far from fantasy. It was the story of a girl growing up in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression. There were mystical elements to it, but I wanted to stay away from genre work so badly, I fought against it anywhere I could. At the time, I wanted to see it in the literature section, not the sci-fi/fantasy section of my bookstore. Time has made that distinction much less important. In fact, I don’t think I’d be too upset if it never sees publication. These days, the story is much more about writing it for myself, not that I’d complain if someone wanted to put it out there.
So much has changed from that original story. The main character’s names have shifted, as well as the setting and even the main plot. Whatever their names, though, the characters remain the same in their core. The young girl who is our heroine still has the dark streak in her that risks turning her into the anti-hero. The brooding boy that accompanies her still makes the same adolescent mistakes that keeps him in his familiar cloud of problems. The older gentleman, who everyone goes to with the problems of the world, has that same arrogance that lead his student down the dark path that put the plot in motion. So even with all the changes and growth, I still feel it is the same fundamental story. It is, perhaps, just a little bit less personal now.
So why is it on my mind today? Well, recently I found the time to finish the first complete draft of my outline. Every chapter is in place with a rough description of the action for each main character, with notes on point-of-view and notes on character development. Next up is a complete outline of each character’s development throughout the book. Then I’ll go through a revision of each of these, and begin writing.
Maybe I’m not quite where Kenn is, but I’m feeling very good about writing. I’m not looking toward finishing, but beginning, expanding, and opening out.