Let me tell you about my novel.
I finished it yesterday.
I hesitated at the end of my narrative to write “The End”, because it is not the end. It is barely the beginning.
For the past three years, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, and for the last three years, I’ve won NaNoWriMo.
In 2011, my piece was called “This Wretched Orb” and when I wrote the piece’s opening line, “A man came into existence on the desolate shore of a vast sea of blue,” I did not know that it would eventually become the first novel in the epic science fiction series I have been writing all of my life. The first 50,000 words of my novel are about “perspective”. What is existence? The question is not so much why are we here, but how are we here. The protagonist awakes on a beach with no memory, no bowhunting skills, he’s not pretty good with a bo staff. He knows nothing. His senses are foreign, he does not understand what sight or sound is, touch or taste. The scent of the ocean is just pure sensation without perspective. How does he survive?
I had fully intended to end the story in the death of the protagonist at the hands of nature, after a rather rousing attempt at survival. I wanted a climax where the reader has spent the entire novel getting behind the protagonist and wanting him to succeed only to witness him die suddenly at the fickle hand of nature.
But, alas, I think drank too much one of those nights somewhere in between. My partner, JD, has heard the basic narrative of my epic sci-fi journey a few times now – i think at the point I was working “This Wretched Orb”, she had heard it once. The events were fresh in my mind, still hot and malleable, which is why I recommend that anyone who wants to make the effort to be a writer have someone they can tell the story to beginning to end.
Let me focus on that for a second, because I think it is important. I do not offer a lot of writing advice, because I do not believe in giving people postcard wisdom. Writing is not a skill you can learn in five easy lessons. Writing is not something you just say you do because you had a strange life and feel like your escapades as a con-man, consumer, drug addict, failed musician, heartless bastard, misguided creationist, or misunderstood genius translate well into written word. You are not F. Scott Fitzgerald or Philip K. Dick. You are not even a Walter Miller, Jr. You never will be, because you are you. Period. What matters, beyond what you want for yourself – fame, recognition, validation, groupies, money – is the story.
If you can’t tell someone your entire novel aloud, beginning to end, without leaving out any of the important bits, and have them completely understand every aspect of your purpose in writing the tale, you either have too much dialogue or not enough story.
Back to my story: There was a night somewhere in November 2011 that something I wrote for “This Wretched Orb” slammed home like a jigsaw puzzle piece in the greater epic (which at that time, had no real beginning or end or purpose). It was a simple event, but it was the snake head eating itself. For an epic about time and infinity, it was the Möbius missing link. Suddenly, in the span of about three minutes, everything fit.
I changed gears, ran into a major roadblock, and ended up with about 11,000 words left to write on the last day of NaNoWriMo 2011. Somehow, I finished it. At the end, the story was no longer about a man in the wilderness, it was about a man in the universe. I was definitely excited at the end of those thirty days. A simple exercise had turned into something infinitely more epic and meaningful.
Instead of continuing on with that story, I did other stuff. I let it simmer for a year, revisiting it only for those occasions where I was drunk enough to ramble out the entire epic to JD again, in the backyard.
November rolled around again, and while my immediate intentions were to start a new novel and attempt to encapsulate a brand new story into 50,000 words, I could not resist the temptation to do something completely ludicrous. I decided instead to write 50,000 more words on the novel I had written the year previously.
That is when things changed for my story. I no longer had one character and one journey to keep in mind, I had a universe of characters, a paradox of time constraints, a lineage of heroes and villains to construct and mold into physical form. I had to become a world-builder – not something I was not familiar with already, but a multiverse of universes is much more unwieldy than a realm of high fantasy. Your science has to work, even if its completely and ludicrously not at all feasible in the entirety of all the possible probabilities of that which is probably possible.
For NaNoWriMo 2012, my piece was called “The City of Light”. Instead of “perspective” being the focus, that year the piece was really about “position”. I introduced new characters into the narrative, and new ideas. Immortals who could die, but came back repeatedly, Mage-like characters with strange powers (37 different distinct powers for 37 different Mages in fact, from microbiological control to transposition), and mysterious anthropomorphic deities, all existing as eternal threads in a narrative that was both larger and smaller than the infinite. Unlike the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I set a relatively steady pace for the second part of my epic, and after twenty-nine or so days, I had reached not only the 50,000 word mark, but also a perfect stopping point in the story.
I celebrated my victory, and then promptly abandoned the epic once again.
It must have been springtime, because I remember being outside, that the novel shook me out of my day-to-day reverie. I realized that if I participated in NaNoWriMo a third time, I could very likely finish out the novel. 150,000 words is a not unimpressive tally for a science fiction novel. And that is where I ran into a massive roadblock. I knew my story was science fiction, but up to that point, nothing science-fictiony had actually happened. The epic would eventually be all science fiction – time travel, paradox, interstellar travel, galactic warfare, futurism, “wind, fire, all that kind of thing!” but so far, I had nothing.
Summer rolled around, and I began to panic just a little bit. I realized that 37 powers were just too many. My romance was just too cheesy, my Adam and Eve characters too heavy-handed, and my antagonist just too stereotypically Caligula. I began a chorus of “fuck” that continued for several days. So I tried to focus on what I really needed to accomplish within the confines of this one story. I needed a good main character, who may or may not carry over into the rest of the epic, I needed to establish a portion of the multiverse so that I could launch from it in the second novel, and I needed to weed out the excess and weak bits. The 37 became 8, the romance went the way of the dodo, and I realigned the antagonist position to something I could use in perpetuity.
The result? This year I called it “The Ninth Power”, and last night I wrote the twisted Epilogue that solidifies its place in the narrative of the science fiction epic I never really thought i would get off the ground. It has everything I know that it should. Philosophy, science, the human condition, but most importantly, “The Ninth Power” is about “purpose”.
152,087 words done, and a ridiculous amount of editing and polishing to go.
I could not have done this, and no attempt to write a novel would have been as successful as this, if JD had not been there all along to say things like “I don’t like it” with such frankness that I had no choice but listen. Babe, it’s not over. Pretty soon, you’ll actually have to read it.
“What happens next?” you might ask.
“Hell,” I say. Writing a complete, cohesive narrative is one thing. Making it shine is another. It’s called detailing – and thanks to my overactive imagination, I have an infinite amount of it to do before I even begin to think about letting someone else look at a single word of it.
Next November? I promise something short, sweet, and completely unrelated.