Well, I finished my ‘fun project,’ yesterday, which entailed completing the fantasy novel that I started writing when I was nineteen. The novel finished out at 90,992 words, of which 39,763 are new words added to the twenty-four-year-old manuscript.
As I mentioned I would do in a previous post, I just blazed through the writing, using the forty-six page outline as it was written, and I didn’t take any time to worry about fixing all the major problems that this piece held. It was a tedious and even painful thing to do at times, but I feel overall the effort was a great learning experience, and it feels good to be able to say that I’ve created even a crude, quite bad, rough draft of a novel.
Laundry listing all the problems this novel had, or the things I’ve learned from finishing it, is probably beyond the scope of this blog. But I’ll highlight a few of them here. First off, the novel was quite derivative, drawing heavily on Tolkien and his imitators, as well as the game Dungeons and Dragons. This in itself is not inherently uncharacteristic of the fantasy genre, but I myself find I wish to be more original in my writing, and that alone will probably preclude me from ever revisiting this work as something to revise. I do like the characters, and a few elements of the plot, so perhaps these will find their way into a future work. We shall see.
Another problem that I found with the work was massive amounts of point of view (POV) shifts throughout, all of which were not handled very well by me. I had three main characters in this novel, and I tended to jump between all three throughout the work. While the third person omniscient POV is a legitimate form, it requires the most skillful of writers to handle it well (Mario Puzo’s The Godfather comes to mind) and I feel such is beyond me at this point. It was definitely beyond me then. This POV, if not handled well, can be very distracting for the reader, and can often thrust them out of the narrative. It is much safer to stick to third person limited POV in most cases. George R. R. Martin succeeds with multiple POVs in his Song of Ice and Fire series, but he handles it by breaking the work into chapters with a single viewpoint character for each.
Another problem I found was the overall lack of danger for the characters throughout most of the novel, and the way that they usually found their way out of danger with too much ease in most cases. A writer really needs to pile it on to their characters, and make them work hard toward their goals. Lots of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ moments are good as well. The stakes should always be raised again and again and again, higher and higher, until the ultimate crisis moment when it looks like all is lost. Sadly this work just did not do that in most cases.
The novel overall seemed to lack what I’ll call depth, for lack of a better word. Characters, particularly minor ones, were often wooden and two dimensional. Even the major ones were two dimensional in many ways, not to mention the setting itself. An author really needs to create a background for their characters and world that not only provides depth and realism, but also motivation for the actions and desires of the characters. I’m not saying every novel needs the level of background that Tolkien created, but I think there is a happy medium between that and simply writing what only appears on the page. This can probably be accomplished in many ways. There are writers who do vast amounts of ‘world building’ before they begin the manuscript proper, and there are those that simply create as they go. Both are valid, but there is no excuse for not doing it at all. I think for me, a combination of both may be the way to go. Since I’ve mostly worked in short stories, I’ve mainly been of the ‘create as you go’ school of thought, but for a novel, particularly a novel as complex as the ones that I want to write, I think I may try a little bit of pre-manuscript world building to get me where I want to be.
And so, with a little sadness but also excitement I leave this world and these characters behind. Sad, because I have enjoyed revisiting them again, breathing a little life in them and completing something that I started. Excitement, because I am now ready (I think) to tackle the SF novel that has been gestating in my brain for several years.
But, a few short story ideas have presented themselves over the course of the last few weeks, so now the decision is, do I knock those out, or move right into the next novel. Only time will tell.
On the reading front, I’ve just started George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novel, the first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire. I very much enjoyed the HBO series based on this novel last year, and am surprised at myself for never getting around to reading this series. I’d read a little bit of Martin’s work before, mostly short stories and the novella Sandkings (which I highly recommend), but this is the first of any of his longer fiction that I’ve read. So far, I must say, I’m enthralled. Martin is a master storyteller, and he has crafted a certain masterpiece here. His plot is far-reaching and complicated and the history of his world so complex it almost reaches a Tolkienian level. His world feels gritty and real, and he doesn’t pull any punches. I would love to know more about how he built his world. My only dislike with is prose is his heavy use of adverbs, which I’ve always been taught weaken one’s writing, but such is a minor complaint against what amounts to one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. I look forward to the next few volumes with great fervor.