Books · Creativity · Writing

Unfinished Business

Now that I’ve finally gotten my short story collection published I’ve decided to switch gears and return to an old friend. Almost two years ago I completed the first draft of my novel, Repercussions. It was…okay. I mean, for a first draft of a first novel, it wasn’t terrible. And full disclosure here – I’ve written a draft for a novel many years ago while participating in National Novel Writing Month. However, that was crap and will never be spoken of in polite company.

But Repercussions, well, it felt different. I mulled over the initial idea for months…conceiving characters, plotting, trying to devise a satisfying ending. I’d never really worked on a such a large project and I wanted to see what I could do. I created a rough outline and rough character sketches. That was fun. I struggled with an idea for an ending. When I write short stories I usually don’t have an ending in mind. I have the premise, maybe a character or two, but rarely do I have an ending laid out. Hell, there have been more than a few occasions when I had an ending for a short story before I started writing it, but ended up with something completely different. I like to let the story carry me along and find its own ending.

After I finished that first draft – which took about four months of steady work – I set it aside. I had spent way too much time with it to be unbiased on the second pass. Better to let it rest like a nicely grilled steak. Don’t want it to dry out, right? I promptly put it out of my mind and went back to work on short stories and working with a visual artist I know on a collaborative effort.

It wasn’t until earlier this year, springtime, when I pulled that first draft back up on my screen and began reading. I feel the story itself is solid, but it definitely needs to be fine-tuned and polished. The real problem for me was the opening. You see, when I sat down to begin writing this beast I didn’t know where to start. I had the basic story, a basic outline, basic characters, but I didn’t know where I should put the pieces into play. So what I did was start writing from my protagonists point of view as he looked back in time, using it as an opportunity to set the stage for myself…a launch pad. It worked. After a few pages I got into the groove and the story began to flow quite nicely.

Going back to read the first draft, I was embarrassed by how bad the opening was. Ugh. It did, however, get me thinking about a quote from some famous writer…I think it was Twain or maybe Vonnegut. They said that a story should begin as close to the ending as possible. I like that. To me it means I should cut out any unnecessary backstory or superfluous narration. In other words: Stop screwing around and get to it.

But at that time I was discouraged. I didn’t know how to fix it. I ended up fiddling around with some of the other chapters until I realized that, depending on what I did with the opening, the later chapters might change. Frustrated, I saved the file and moved on to more familiar territory.

In a way, I’m glad I did. That break allowed me to work on writing and editing short stories, some of which ended up in Dark Journeys. But now that I’ve finished that project, I decided it’s time to pull that draft out of storage, blow off the virtual dust, and get back to it. The thing is, the novel has been on my mind the past few weeks. I even dreamed about it the other night, thinking about possibilities for alternative openings. The one that stuck with me cuts out all that backstory and memory from the first chapter. In fact, the first chapter is tossed altogether. The dream I had was more exciting, included some action, and gave my protagonist and his best friend a little more to do…which, in turn, fleshes out their characters much better than the current version.

I think the time has come to revisit this old friend and take care of unfinished business.

RB

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