It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I would normally offer some form of apology at this point, but given the new perspective I’ve gleaned from being modestly active the past few months (in terms of writing, at any rate), I feel perhaps an apology would be more appropriate had I not taken a step back. I needed to do this.
For the past few months, I’ve been directionless in my writing. This, I think, was due in part to frustration with my current work in progress, Pathfinder. But the bright side of a protracted hiatus, however unintentional, is that one has plenty of time to reassess. And having done this, I feel I have a much better idea of where I’m headed. That being said, here’s what I have planned for the weak to come:
While Wide Horizon is hardly my primary focus this week, I’m mentioning it first to get it out of the way, if nothing else. When last I mentioned my debut novel, I had completed my edits, and was planning to pen my query letter and start shopping around for publication. As luck would have it, within the month my editor will be free, and has asked that she be given another look. It’s not a severe delay (I’ve already sat on it for months now. What’s a little bit longer?), and I feel it will be good to have her look over the reworking I’ve done one more time. Between the two of us, I’m confident we can put out a quality finished product. So, while I do intend to put in some time reading through Wide Horizon this week, and perhaps making some minor adjustments to the rewritten passages, overall I’m feathering the brakes for the moment.
This is my main focus for the week, and I have a lot of work to do.
Ever since I began work on Pathfinder, only shortly after finishing Wide Horizon, I’ve found it frustrating. I just couldn’t help but feel that A) Pathfinder, a story I feel far more strongly about than Wide Horizon, just wasn’t shaping up to be anywhere near the caliber of work I’d put forth in my debut novel, and B) what I was writing wasn’t doing justice to my overall vision. Everything just felt shallow, dimensionless. I wasn’t writing from the heart as I had been on Wide Horizon. It felt as though I was just writing to write. And I’m fairly certain what I’ve written so far reads like it.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that all my problems with Pathfinder stem from my protagonist, Randall Holmes. Naturally, he’s central to the story; as with most fiction, all the other characters exist to support his, to guide him through the story to its conclusion. And since he himself had become jumbled and dimensionless, every other character, every element of the story, had grown flimsy and worthless.
The thing is, the entire story arc that will begin with Pathfinder was effectively built backwards: when I first “met” Randall Holmes was already an old man. He was, I dare say, a fascinating character: emerging from lore notes on a related story as a historic figure, he was one of the more interesting characters I’ve ever created. The elder Holmes was a revolutionary, a frontiersman, a naturalist who believed strongly in mankind’s imperative to learn to coexist with the ecosystems of alien planets, rather than using terraforming to bend them to our will. It was a cause he’d found worth fighting for, even if it meant bearing arms against Earth.
I always like writing about dynamic characters: I like to have my characters go through life-changing events that cause them to grow and develop into something else, something new. Perhaps that’s why, in my early drafts of Pathfinder, I made him a very different person. However, too much of his story just doesn’t make sense. In trying, much to my discredit, to write a more classically literary character, one who’s angst-ridden, filled with self-doubt, and struggling with family problems, I found I had no idea how, exactly, the man I’d created would ever develop into the strong, likable, good-natured leader he was supposed to become.
The difficult conclusion I reached through this self-revelation was that the current iteration of Randall Holmes, and this the entire story of Pathfinder as it currently stands, is a dead end. While I should hardly say that means everything I’ve written thus far, or even a large measure of it, is now worthless, it does mean that while I can save the skin of the story I’ll need to rework the guts. First and foremost, I need to get my bearings: I need to really know this world I’ve created, how it works. Wide Horizon was easy: world-building is almost effortless when the entire story hinges on creating a sense of isolation around the main characters. It allowed me to be intentionally vague with regards to what was going on anywhere else. But this is different: it needs to be realistic, immersive. Luckily, I’ve already been working on this part: many of my more recent short fiction pieces have taken place in this universe, and have helped me to better understand how everything works.
The second part is getting to know Randall Holmes. I need to know more about who he is, not as he might appear in much later stories but as he is now, in Pathfinder. No doubt that will take a bit more time, but in the end I believe it will be well worth it, as it will allow me to create a more likable character my readers can really get behind.
…And Everything Else
I’ve found writing to be no different than most any other skill; there is a certain amount of natural talent involved, but more than anything it requires practice. And without regular practice, the skill diminishes somewhat. As I’ve previously mentioned, that’s where my daily sketches come in, and I’m pleased to say I’ve gotten back to them over the past week. While it’s still early, I already feel I’ve generated some quality work, and no doubt things will get better so long as I keep at it.
My recent pieces have ranged wildly, from a Twilight Zone-style story involving duplicates from another universe to a piece dealing with the terraforming of an alien world, to a wild one involving a spacecraft crashing into a two-dimensional object.
Those stories and others will be addressed later this week, as I continue working back into my usual weekly writing regimen. This week, I’ll be bringing back my weekly Junk Drawer and Short Story Saturday features, as I get back to numerous unfinished projects of long standing.
Keep checking through the week for more updates, and as always, dare to dream. – MK