Approaching Darkness Chapter 19

In the last two weeks I have built a Solar Car, been accepted to graduate school, visited said school, celebrated Easter, gotten a job offer – which will pay for the aforementioned school, and packed up half my apartment to put in storage while attending the aforementioned school. This is all an attempt to say that I have lacked the time/energy/willpower to post this last segment of my book until now. For the two of you that I expect are still reading it, sorry for the long wait.

I intended at the end of this book to write up my thoughts about this book ‘as if I were reviewing it’. Unfortunately I find that I cannot. I’m likely to be either too harsh on myself or too lenient, neither of which is really honest. I suspect that I would have some pretty harsh things to say if I read this as a published book. It is obviously not ready for publication.

I did learn a great deal while writing it though.

I think one of the things that I’m most pleased with is the characters. They feel real to me (I’d love to get others reactions to them) and I think they have real motivations. I like the pacing of the novel. I like the parts of the story that take place in modern times. I really like most of the action scenes. Some of the scenes (and the writing) I am immensely pleased with – mostly the ones that I rewrote or wrote later on.

Unfortunately the scenes and lines that I wrote at different times are glaringly obvious to me. Some of the writing in the middle chapters is embarrassing. There were times I nearly called off the whole thing and didn’t post any more. Some of the situations are a little contrived, some are outright horrible. This was obviously a learning novel for me. Reading this book I can tell which authors I was reading at the time I wrote each section. This means that I am too derivative, too influenced by other’s books. I need to work harder to depart from that.

I learned that I don’t write fantasy well. The ‘magic’ in this book only loosely makes any sense and I think the times that it is being used are the weakest parts of the whole story. The one book that I wrote previously was also fantasy and, if you can believe it, was even worse than this. I feel like science fiction is much more natural for me, however, as I’ve written a number of short stories in that setting that worked really well – or, at least, I think they did. I learned that I don’t handle large groups of people or large conflicts very well either. This is something I’m going to practice in the next novel I write. Whenever the number of people in a scene moves beyond two or three my writing kind of falls apart and becomes vague and unfocused. I have been studying some of the masters of this kind of large scale story telling (Steven Erikson, J. R. R. Tolkien, Kate Elliot) and I think I’m ready to try it again – though not at their scale.

I learned that foreshadowing is tremendously difficult. It’s hard to leave clues that are not explicit statements. Building in that ‘surprising but inevitable’ conclusion takes a lot of skill. I think I succeeded here better than I had expected to but also failed in a lot ways. I worry that Samuel’s reversal comes too abruptly. On the other hand sometimes the foreshadowing of it feels too heavy-handed to me.

I learned that I need to get to know my characters better before writing about them. I think this is a problem for a lot of writers. Many writers will write fifty or a hundred pages that they intend to throw away that are just dialogue and reactions of the characters interacting with each other in order to discover their voice. I don’t know if I need to do that but I do need to learn their voices and motivations better. This book needed some drastic rewriting once I figured out how each character sounded.

I learned that I am too long winded. The first draft of this book was just shy of two hundred thousand words. After a quick read-through where I deleted unneeded words and sentences and paragraphs I cut it down to 170,000 words. After a couple more proofs and rewriting some scenes the total length is about 150,000 words. Even with all that cut out I noticed that there are certain words I use way too frequently that can be replaced or, more commonly, deleted completely. One of these is the word ‘suddenly’. The word is usually unnecessary but I seem to spatter it about three or four times every couple of pages. (I deleted a lot of them before I posted the sections so if you noticed them then it was really bad, if you didn’t then I caught a lot of them).

I need to be a little bit more explicit in my pre-planning stage. Ursula K. LeGuin, possibly one of the best prose writers alive, has mentioned that she examines every scene; if it does not accomplish at least three things then she discards it. The three things can be establishing character, setting, or plot, foreshadowing, description, etc. but they have to be identifiable – at least to the author. I’d like to try that with my next book.

I learned that the best way to get better at writing is to write more. The scenes I wrote early compared to the ones I wrote later are drastically different.

I learned a great deal more that I can’t really quantify or express explicitly. Much of it is just gaining skill points in writing so that I can level up.

I think my writing skill right now is unpublishable – if I was an editor I would not publish this. That said, I think that I have read worse books that were published by major distributors (not many, but a few). I think this book was as good as I could make it with the skill I had at the time. I started it nearly eight years ago, wrote two thirds of it in one summer and then abandoned it for five years before finishing it. I’ve grown since then, I’ve learned a great deal, studied a great deal and I think I’m ready to start the next one. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the novel especially relating to the things I mentioned that I liked/disliked. I’d also like to hear what others think worked well or didn’t. Your thoughts can help me see through my blind spots. Don’t try to be kind, just be honest, that will help me the most. I promise you cannot offend me (although I’m interested if anybody wants to try). Even if you tell me it was the worst thing you have ever read.

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