Been working on my novel-for-adults (provisionally entitled The Storytellers). I’m quite excited about the book. But it’s also been slow. Te novel is very short, 30k words in its first draft and probably 45k in the final draft, and I’ve been writing and rewriting the first two (of six) chapters. I always spend a lot of time on the first act. To my mind, the first act is usually the most exciting and interesting part of the book, and it’s also the rocket that blasts the book into space. Whenever I hit the end of the first act, I have the same question, “Do I have enough propulsive power to get to the end? Is there enough conflict here? Are there enough characters and threads?” Because if you run out of material in twenty thousand words, you can’t just invent stuff: you need to go back and put more stuff into the beginning.
It’s hard. I use the word ‘cerebral’ to describe my writing process these days. Whenever I encounter a road block, I do a lot of thinking and a lot of diagramming. And it’s always the same two questions: What is currently in the book? And what wants to be in the book?
Each book has an internal logic that’s dictated by the situations it tackles and the effects it’s trying to achieve. The logic of a book cannot be directly altered; only the book’s contents can be altered. So whenever I run into a problem with the logic, I think, What needs to change in order to solve this problem? Quite frequently, the answer is that something within the book is vague or unelaborated. In the current case, it’s the central antipathy born towards the protagonist by her boss. I had some vague idea of what drove the antipathy, but when I ran into problems writing, I realized that the nature of his hurt was too vague. That meant that in different situations, I allowed it to be different things. In the absence of definition, my mind chose expediency rather than clarity.
Other times the answer is that you’ve made concrete decisions, but they don’t fit within the logic of the book. Essentially, you’re trying to force it, trying to create a false situation.
It’s a bit punishing, trying to make sure the book seems complete and logical, and it often isn’t very rewarding. The logic of the book is something that only a very few readers are able to appreciate. It can also feel hopeless or frustrating at times. It takes a lot of faith to delete what you’ve written and to keep working, in the belief that you’ll eventually discover that logic. You’re searching for something that might not exist. And you don’t have to do that. It’s very tempting to ignore the glimmerings of logic and to just push forward, finish the thing, and send it out.
But it’s also fun to work on a book. It’s fun to think. It’s fun to watch the characters slowly come to life. It’s not fun all the time, or even most of the time, but some fun does exist. And I guess that’s why we do it. And also for the money. And the fame.