I am spent. It’s amazing to me that I could write a 145,000+ word novel, and yet find editing two constituent chapters of it so taxing. I feel physically exhausted. Yet I also feel a sense of accomplishment, even elation. One of the vital sections of my debut novel has now been reworked. I’m very happy with the way it all turned out, and even happier to report that I’ve cleared a major milestone on my way to publishing Wide Horizon.
When writing anything, science fiction especially, the question of whether or not to include a romantic subplot is among the most important and most difficult decisions a writer must face. Romance sells a story, but as nearly every major work of fiction involves some measure of it, its inclusion can feel trite unless one is capable of presenting the reader with something both organic and new. Well, I dare say I managed the “something new” part fairly easily. Organic, though…that’s a different matter entirely.
For the male writer, especially when writing science fiction, the most difficult part of writing romance is producing quality female characters. My first pass at the female lead in Wide Horizon was trite almost to the point of being offensive: in trying to produce a strong, independent female character, I created someone almost universally despised by my female beta readers (my male beta readers, on the other hand, seemed to find nothing wrong with the character, and if that doesn’t say something grim about our society I don’t know what does). So, after beta reading, I went back to the drawing board, and finally produced a character I felt good about.
Then came the relationship itself, and that part I found far more challenging. It’s strange; I’ve experienced the beginnings of a relationship many times in my life, and yet I found that pivotal period so difficult to capture on paper. Looking back, perhaps I was rushing things (happens in real-world relationships all the time). I was trying too hard to throw two individuals together and have them fall in love. In the end, it was the realization that no relationship is ever that easy that helped me to refine my work.
Every relationship begins with familiarity. You get to know a person. You ask questions, answer them yourself. Then comes the foundation: trust. Trust is a valuable commodity, one that must be earned. And over my lifetime I’ve found that perhaps the easiest way to earn a person’s trust is to offer your own. You open yourself to them: you take their words at face value, give them the benefit of the doubt unless it appears they are undeserving. You tell them about yourself, reveal yourself slowly, and trust that they will not use such privileged information to harm you.
In time, that exchange of trust forms a powerful bond. And that, as it turns out, was the key. I needed to allow my characters to get to know one another. One remained guarded as the other exposed her soul, hoping that, by offering her trust, she would be trusted in return.
While my revisions have added precipitously to my word count, I’ve decided that is a matter that can be attended to later. After all, in retrospect I’ve realized that my best work on Wide Horizon was done before I grew self-conscious about its length. I’ve always maintained that a story should only be as long or short as it needs to be: regardless of word count, it must develop on its own, and can only be what it is. When it’s done, it’s done, however long that takes. Beginning with Part 3 of Wide Horizon I lost sight of that, and I dare say the all-important conclusion of my debut novel suffered as a result.
My reworked Part 1 feels more organic, more real. It is emotionally raw at times, dialogue-heavy, but this is to be expected during portions of a novel that engage in serious character-building. I know my characters. After spending so many years with them, I know them very well.
As it turned out, I needed to give them a chance to get to know one another.