Novel Progress: F*** Yeah, Five Chapters!

The draft is now five chapters and over 29,000 words long, and I’m starting on Chapter Six. Chapter Four is probably going to need some significant editing, but I’m pretty confident that what I have now generally represents how the early stages of the plot will look in the finished work. Confidence continues to build.

I have been getting feedback from a few friends and family members as I go, of course. My mom provides most of the early editorial, and has me rethinking plot devices and word uses that make more sense to me than they do to her. One of my friends is very good at hacking magic systems, so I have workshopped mine with him to make sure that it won’t create plot holes or be open to obvious system cheats.

One thing I’ve been doing that may be counterproductive is comparing myself to authors I liked as a kid, whether favorably or unfavorably. It may be fun to learn that I use fewer said bookisms than someone whose writing I have grown disillusioned with, but counting the unconventional verbs takes up time that I could be spending writing. On the other side of that equation, comparing myself to authors I still love can be both inspiring and entirely disheartening.

My biggest problem area right now is probably transitions. I sometimes have trouble figuring out how to get to the next scene I have planned, and end up rushing through the process to get there. Sometimes this is acceptable, of course; if getting to the next scene involves traveling and not much happens on the way, it’s only natural to condense that as much as possible. Other times, it leads to rushing through potentially important information.

Alongside my writing, I have been working on my setting’s conlangs. Freithan and Astarian, the nearly-identical languages spoken by the main character and her father, are taking shape rather nicely: I’ve mapped out five declensions (one of which is unique to Freithan) in singular and plural, decided on possible verb stems, and invented an odd way of using the vocative that I don’t think occurs in any real-world languages. I’m not sure how much of the conlang will actually make it into the book, but I do find it immensely useful to have just for the sake of naming. People in the main characters’ culture are typically named using a noun or adjective combined with one of a few “endings” that indicate personal names; for example, Andreva (andar, “birch tree” + -eva), Rinna (rin, “river” + -na), Kelric (keli, “blond” + -ric), Cathrenna (cathre, “summer”+ -na), and Garron (garre, “stormcloud” + -on). Places tend to be named after geographical features, particularly bodies of water in the Freithan region.

Speaking of place names, I’m often unsure of whether to translate them. In the draft I have, I’ve pretty much been adhering to the Rule of Cool and occasionally to what will give the reader the impression I want to give. For example, “Rivermeet” gets translated because it sounds better and is more evocative than “Rinnausva.” Giving this particular place a fantasy name would utterly erase the picture that you get from its literal translation, which is important, because to the characters, it does have a descriptive name. It’s built on the intersection of two rivers, and is pretty much everything that implies: a trade hub, a center of travel, etc. Meanwhile, “Ilsevand” remains untranslated because its translated name, “Clearlake,” isn’t particularly interesting.

In any case, I should probably wrap this up and go back to writing — this draft isn’t going to finish itself! Plus, if I keep going, I’ll start spilling far more of the plot and setting than I should.

Novel Progress: Wordier than Senior Thesis

I passed an important milestone today. My novel draft has how surpassed my senior thesis in word count.

To be fair, my thesis was a bit short for a senior thesis at Reed. I wrote it over one semester, so the length requirement was cut down a bit. Still, my thesis is one of the biggest writing projects I’ve ever done, and I have managed to exceed its word count within about half the time. If that’s not something to be proud of, I don’t know what is.

Of course, some of this speed might be owed to the different type of writing. Academic writing requires a lot more setup, because you have to research everything. Novels also require research, but when you write in your own world, a lot of the history is in your head. The research largely functions to establish whether what you’ve imagined is at least plausible.

It’s also interesting to note that although I have passed my thesis in word count, I’m not even close to passing its page count. The reason for this one is far more obvious: I’m writing my novel single-spaced. I will have to double-space it when I send out the manuscript, but for now, I really do prefer to have it single-spaced, because it makes it easier to scroll around. It also keeps me from feeling like I’m being too long-winded. This is the first draft, after all. I have heard that most final drafts are anywhere from twenty to fifty percent shorter than the first draft. I can cut down on unnecessary material later; for now, I just want to get the story written and crafted, so that I know what needs tweaking when I look it over.

Perhaps the most fun thing about this is, I’m not even out of the double digits in chapter count. This book is going to be long… but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And now, back to the draft I go! After all, I still need to get up to my 2,000 words of the day.

Novel Progress: Chapter One Finished!

My New Year’s Resolution was to finish my first novel in 2017, and I’ve just taken a big step towards that: I completed the draft of the first chapter. It’s a little over 6,600 words and takes up ten and a half pages in Microsoft Word (12-point, Times New Roman, single-spaced, one-inch margins). If that seems a little long… well, it may need some trimming. It is, after all, only a draft. On the other hand, I am writing in a genre (fantasy) where long chapters are not exactly uncommon.

I’m pretty excited about this, because even though it’s just one chapter, it feels so much bigger. In my personal experience, I’ve found that the first chapter is almost always the hardest to write. Once I’m over that hurdle, the rest follows much more naturally, even when I end up going back and fiddling with what I’ve already written. I suspect that the effect is psychological: having a chapter already fully drafted makes it that much more believable that I can write the rest. It’s still daunting, but having an example helps me to stop second-guessing myself.

This was actually the kind of process I saw when I wrote my senior thesis. My thesis was an examination of mythical themes in Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, a didactic text of the Epicurean school of philosophy (which, among other things, holds that myths relating to gods are almost entirely untrue). I spent a great deal of time outlining, but what really made me feel capable of finishing was that moment when I put the final words on the introduction. The first chapter was a much bigger milestone in terms of content analyzed and points made, but having a whole section done made it real.

Of course, novel writing is necessarily different from academic writing. I still have research to worry about, but I don’t have to include quotes. Footnotes are a non-issue, and contractions are much more acceptable, but suddenly I have all sorts of styles to choose from. It can be a rough switch.

In the interest of fun, though, I’ve decided to talk about some things I’m already observing about the draft. First, I think I’ve identified one of the floweriest similes:

Her long, wavy hair was the color of freshly-cut oak heartwood, though the evening darkness and bright torchlights lent it a richer cast of polished mahogany.

It probably needs some trimming, but I do want to keep the “wood” theme in the final draft, since the scene in which this occurs is set in a logging town. If it had been a mining town, I would have exchanged the oak heartwood for a simple “brown” and said that the highlight made it appear gilded.

(And to think I used to be all snooty about how I didn’t care that much about figurative language, and how we should all just let stories be stories… gah, I was so pretentious as a teenager.)

Although I try to keep off the self-praise, one thing I’m kind of proud of is that I think I did a good job of establishing the main character’s introversion without making her seem like a doormat. She gets lost in crowds, and her extroverted childhood friend pulls her around a bit, but she still manages to be pretty forceful on her own or with people she knows, even calling out said friend when she got a little too pushy. She also takes initiative on her “quest,” so to speak, and it’s established that those close to her knew that she would do that. She has her nerves, but when she makes up a mind to do something, she gets it done.

I also really like writing her dad, even though it can sometimes be hard to come up with his lines. He’s very reasonable. I want to trade stories with him over a nice cup of tea.

One thing I definitely think could use some trimming is a bit of description surrounding the moons. The world of my novel has three moons, which has resulted in a rather interesting form of astrology. I went into this a bit because the midsummer festival described in the first chapter ties into it; however, I think what I have now is a bit too close to an infodump, and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. Getting carried away with details I find interesting is kind of an Achilles heel of mine. It probably comes from the same part of my brain as the Random Research Projects.

Chapter Two is now in the works; in fact, I have almost a page of it written already. I don’t know how long it will be relative to Chapter One, but I do know that it will take much less time to write.

From now on, I’m shooting for the Stephen King 2,000 Words Per Day Minimum. I had already greatly exceeded that quota for the day before I started on this blog post, but really, what’s the point of cutting it off at the minimum?

The answer, of course, is none. None whatsoever.

I am going to keep going while I’m ahead, and I am going to DO THIS THING.