In this first draft stage of my first novel, I am learning all kinds of things. I’m like my toddler, learning to walk and to run and to chase the cats and to bang my chin off the driveway. Some of these things are more fun than others, and some of them are things I won’t be doing in the future. But you try them all out anyway, either on purpose or on accident, and you either learn from them or you don’t. Reminds me of yet another Douglas Adams quote, which I recall almost daily.
You live and learn. At any rate, you live.
I’m up against it now in the story. At almost 75% finished, it’s down to the nitty-gritty, balls-to-the-wall, sharknado-or-get-off-the-pot bit where things have to be happening, everybody has to pull their weight,every event and every word most be working toward the same immense task of wrapping this bad boy up. For a guy like me, who’s more verbose and relaxed than, I don’t know, brass-tacksy, it’s daunting.
Here are some problems I’m discovering as I work towards an ending.
1. I’m not sure the love interest is pulling her own weight. This is number one because it’s sitting in the middle of the road like a truculent cow on the freeway and I fear that if I can’t figure out something productive to do with her, then I’m going to be having burgers for dinner. Because I’m going to smash into her and little bits of her are going to end up char-grilled to perfection. She’s just in the way, and I fear in my enthusiasm to splice her into the story like a bit of inspired soundtrack, I may have spoiled the pudding with too many dwarves. Fargo, that was a lot of mixed metaphors. To recap: she’s a problem.
2. There’s a large confrontation brewing, and it feels like something I’m not sure I want it to be. No spoilers here, but one character has gone a bit off the map and retreated to a super sekrit lair from which he (or she, no spoilers!) is dispensing twisted justice and running amok like a sentient assembly line robot that’s come loose from its moorings and started flinging bits of Chevrolets at the factory workers. So what’s wrong with that? Well, this isn’t really an action-adventure story. A big blowout with the monster in his underground lair doesn’t exactly fit the tone of my story, but I don’t know how else to get the stubborn SOB out of there. To complicate matters, that particular stuck wicket has to be dealt with in the near rather than the far future, because a) that knot must be untied before the through-line of the book can be resolved and b) the other characters have basically arrived at his doorstep as of today’s session, so the showdown is imminent. He (or she, no spoilers!) is basically like a swollen tick feeding on the ft, fleshy underbelly of the story. Which is good; that’s what I designed him (or her, no spoilers!) to do, after all. Problem is, how do I dig his chitinous asgard out without popping his head off or crushing him to death?
3. Time. I feel I’ve lost all sense of the passage of time in the book, and for a story about a very specific deadline, that’s what you might call a fly in the ointment. This is a wrinkle that will be easier, perhaps, than the others to iron out in edits, but it’s buzzing around in my head and I can’t ignore it, and man oh man I would kill for a flyswatter to get these wrinkles under control. Sharknado, there go my metaphors again.
I believe I mentioned not long after the start of all this business that I constantly heard the chittering of the Howler Monkey of Doubt in the back of my brain, that incessant whisper that I won’t really be able to finish all this, that I can’t really make this story work, that it won’t come to anything even if I do. That sonofamonkey is at klaxon levels of noise and discord right now, and every day I feel I’m fighting against a river, pulling my head above the waves to push out just a few more words before the current of insecurity and uncertainty yanks me under again and bounces me off a few rocks for good measure.
But there’s another voice now. I don’t have a fancy title for it yet, because I’ve only recently heard it whispering to me. The Howler Monkey is right there, shouting, flinging Sharknado around, leaving banana peels and little pieces of poop in the corners, essentially making himself impossible to ignore. This voice, on the other hand, is a hushed whisper just at the edge of hearing. A shimmer in the background. A shadow that dissipates the moment you turn to look at it. And while the Monkey pulls me down, this other voice, this — whatever it is, title pending — lifts me up. “You’ve put in too much time and work to quit now,” it mumbles. “If you couldn’t finish it, how did you make it this far?” it whispers. “You’re so close, just reach out and take it,” it urges.
In his memoir, Open, Andre Agassi, tennis player of note, said something fascinating about the end of a match. He said the end of a match, the finish line, is like a magnet, simultaneously pulling you toward it and repelling you. In one moment you feel it drawing you in like a black hole, and it’s inevitable that you’ll cross the line and win; there can be no other outcome. The next moment it pushes you away like two north poles on two magnets, and it’s impossible that you’ll ever cross it. I think I’m glimpsing a glimmer of what he felt.
It’s times like these I have to push back from the desk, take a deep breath all the way down to my toes, and remind myself that making the story not sharknado-ey is what the editing phase is for, as my kung-fu-master-in-spirit Chuck Wendig would say. The important part for now is to get the words, the draft, the essence of the story down on the paper; later, Future Me will lay it out like a giant congealed hairball and start sorting out all the meaty bits.
So I think I’m just gonna forget that the love interest is there, for now, and let Future Me figure out which point in the story it makes sense to remove her from in the past when he reads in the future. Ooh, that hurt my head. And I may just let the confrontation in question devolve into a shoot-em-up action sequence with explosions and earthquakes and all sorts of nonsense. It’s certainly possible in the world I’ve created even if it’s a bit out of step with the rest of the story. And as for the time question… well, considering I can change whatever I want, technically the time isn’t an issue at all. To quote Marty McFly,
What am I talking about? I’ve got a Time Machine, I’ve got all the time in the world!
…At least I think that was the line. Dharma it, now I’m gonna have to go watch that movie again.
Anyway, I’m glad we talked. You really helped me to work through these problems. Just… put some pants on next time, okay?