Sunday, December 11, 2011

Revisiting an Old Manuscript

So I mentioned in my last post that since I reached the milestone of 400,000 words for the year, I planned to spend the balance of December, and possibly a little of the beginning of next year, working on a little ‘fun’ project.  Well, allow me to elaborate. 
First, a little background. 
When I was nineteen years old, during the spring and summer of 1987, I wrote a novel.  More precisely I wrote a complex outline and summary for a novel (46 single-spaced pages) and then wrote almost two hundred pages of the novel itself.  Something then discouraged me, and I put the novel in the proverbial drawer, where is has languished for over twenty-four years. 
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Novels written by teenagers usually aren’t that good.  (and no, no apologies to Christopher Paolini)  This one wasn’t the exception, either.   It was a standard Tolkien Fantasy knockoff with Elves, Dwarves, Dragons and such, set in a standard medieval Europe-like milieu.  Such books were all the rage back in the seventies and eighties, with the likes of Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings and others cranking ‘em out.  I lapped ‘em up like crazy, so it is no surprise that such was the leanings of my first attempt at a novel. 
I came across that manuscript in an old filing cabinet recently, and I actually read it in its entirety--with much delight.  And no, it wasn’t that good, but it was fun to see what my skills were at that point in my life, and also my weaknesses.  I was a little disappointed when I got to the chapter where it abruptly ended.  Yes, in spite of how bad it was, I was enjoying reading it. 
I found a note I’d placed in the same folder where I’d kept the manuscript that outlined my reasons for abandoning it.  I’d been browsing the bookstore that day and I came upon a published fantasy novel that I decided had quite a few similar elements as my little opus, and I think the experience just deflated me.  I wrote a few more pages, but the burning drive to finish the novel just wasn’t there.   I think I’d been so driven because I felt I’d had a very original premise for this novel.   One that hadn’t been done yet in genre fantasy. 
That premise?  My main character was a dwarf who wanted to become a wizard.  And you see, according to the tropes of the day (as started by Tolkien, but reinforced by later, copycat authors, and of course Dungeons and Dragons), dwarves are inherently non-magical.  So I had a character, and a seemingly impossible goal, and I sat down and created a rich but quite derivative world in which to tell this story.  I did a lot of research into Norse myth for this work, and I think that is why there were so many similarities to the published novel I came across (which was, for full disclosure, called “The Plains of the Sea,” by Neil Hancock), right down to several names I’d used.   Old Mr. Hancock had mined the Norse mythos as thoroughly as I had--perhaps even more so. 
So, flash forward twenty-four years.  I’ve reread the manuscript, and while I don’t think I’ve got anything even remotely usable on my hands, I did enjoy it, and I sort of wished I’d finished it way back then.   So now, I’m thinking, just for fun, I may do just that.  It shouldn’t be too hard, as I’ve got the detailed outline and summary that I created, I just have to pick up where I left off and complete the prose.  The only question is, of course, would this be a valuable use of my time? 
Before I answer that, I’ll say that the original writing of this novel WAS a good use of my time.  I taught myself a great deal about writing that summer by simply going through the process.  The technique of writing an outline and summary for the whole thing first was a good and useful method, one which I think I will use on future novel projects that I have planned.  Then going through the day to day writing of the thing, even though I didn’t finish it, still proved to me that I could handle a work of that complexity. 
So, on the one hand, finishing out a novel that I feel has no hope of success would seem on the surface a waste of time.  But, I don’t plan to spend that great of a deal of time on it...maybe six weeks or so, and I think there can be some benefit.  I’d wanted to start on my novel called “Behavior” at the beginning of next year, but I still feel my mind is geared toward the short fiction I’ve been writing, and I need to do something to sort of ‘ramp myself up’ to the task of writing a novel.  So I think the exercise won’t be completely without benefits.  I’ll no doubt learn a few things along the way, so I think it could be time well spent.  Most established authors maintain that a writer has one or more ‘bad novels’ in their system that need to be gotten out before their better work emerges, so perhaps “Shillelagh” (as this novel was titled) could be one of those. 
So, I’ve set a few rules for myself in this endeavor.  The main one is that I’m going to stick to the story as plotted by my nineteen-year-old self, plot holes and all.  Also, no going back and fixing issues in the first two hundred pages that were already written.  (It is full of problems like POV issues, gaps in the causal chain, unresolved character arcs, etc).  As for the rest of the writing, if I can address any of these issues at the sentence level, then that is fine, but no major changes at the chapter level or greater. 
Part of me also wants to try to channel that nineteen-year-old’s voice when I write the rest of it, but that might just be asking a bit too much, and really isn’t necessary, since I’m writing this only for an audience of one...me. 
So, here I go, revisiting some characters and a world that has sat frozen in time for over half my life, waiting for the tale to be told.  I’m almost excited to begin this endeavor, and I think that nineteen year old I once was would be pleased.  Get ready to find your magic, little dwarf!
I’ll keep you posted on this little project as it develops. 

Chris

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