Taking the Nuclear Option – Draft 6

Draft number six. It’s going to be draft number six, almost to a complete nuclear restart so I can write this story properly with an outline, better direction, a more robust setting, and a thorough knowledge of the characters who inhabit my world. It’s going to require patience and persistence. It will mean an understanding with myself that this story is going back to the very beginning, and the “we’re finished” is going to be a long way off. More important, it will mean an understanding that this is not a failure, just another lesson on the path to writing the story that I want to tell. Part of me agrees that I should finish and deliver the story, but if I know that the story is weak and that there are too many errors that I can correct with the careful application of structure and craft, then I don’t see why I should put more energy toward something that isn’t the best that I can do.

Am I a perfectionist? Uh… yeah. I want things to go well, to be correct, to display the best possible result whenever possible. When it comes to my work, I want feedback if the product isn’t what the client wants so that I can improve. Improvement is the goal, because perfect is impossible. If I can improve with more time, then why not take that time to improve? Why not learn more and use that to make a better story?

Hollow is not my first story, nor is it my second, or even my third. Hollow is a new world, a solo venture that started more than five years ago now after a seemingly innocent conversation that sparked a wild idea. At the time, I thought that it was silly that someone could spend five years working on a single book with the opportunity to dedicate the majority of one’s creative energies to the title. I thought that people who couldn’t finish fixing the worlds crammed between the spaces in their ears in a decade’s time were lousy time managers and horrific multitaskers. Now, as I scowl at the outline in progress and push the negative “dude, again?” thoughts from my mind and embrace the “this is how one learns to be a better writer” mantra, I realize that some ideas take a long time to grow, and they require time and space to evolve to something that can flourish in words rather than ideas and sparks between synapses.

I struggle with the endings of stories. Wrapping a story or a scene presents the biggest challenge. I can start a scene, and I’ve received consistent feedback from coauthors and readers/listeners that I have a good bead on how people talk and the flow of dialogue. But endings? Ending a scene is a chore. Ending an entire book? That is something I’ve never done very well. As I neared the end of the fifth draft of Hollow, I was rewriting the ending because of changes that I’d made to some of the main characters, which affected the resolution of the entire story. Of course, certain details changed. Those details altered the established rules of “magic” in this urban fantasy, which alerted my continuity alarm. I rewrote the first scene based upon that tingle and…

… well, that was the scene I posted earlier. I like it. I think it’s better for the characters, better for the story overall. But those little changes, alongside some issues that I had with the believability of magic in my world…

Look, I can suspend belief in the logical very easily. My desk is covered with figurines from a show about magical talking ponies, and I enjoy stories about steampunked secret agents in flying (or is that falling gracefully, Welly?) cars. I write metahuman heroes. My imagination gets a workout every single day… but I was writing one of the last chapters for Hollow yesterday, and it occurred to me that, if a rift to the abyss opened up from the floor of a penthouse apartment, wouldn’t that grossly undermine the structural integrity of the building? Wouldn’t all the tenants below have holes in their floors and ceilings? And come to think of it, why would a crimelord with a demonic heritage and refined tastes ever allow someone to conduct what amounted to open-heart surgery on his plush white carpet?

Really. The continuity alarms dinged for engineering and interior decorating purposes, but they weren’t the only questions. The bigger ones asked where I was going, what I planned to do with the characters who survived to the end. Could they return to the plans I had set for them before that one character change? What did fixing one plothole with an on-screen character death do to the motivations for the other characters? Did I truly know how the story was going to end, or was I just putting down words because I knew that I needed them for the Magic Spreadsheet, and it was more important to put down words than to stop and figure out what purpose the words needed to fulfill?

(Mind you, I came to this realization while listening to Diana Krall on my phone at the gaming shop around 10:30PM last night. It takes all kinds, that’s for sure.)

So, the resolution is that I need to go back to the beginning and outline the story. I’ve got my copy of Save the Cat, which is beat up and still has post-its in it from the first time I used it for the outline… five drafts ago. Now, I’m going to outline the story, but I’m also going to set down the rules of the world, get a better understanding of the characters, and get more in-tune with the city of Las Perditas. As far as the Magic Spreadsheet goes, I will likely dial down my daily wordcount and embrace the use of the Pomodoro (25 minutes of uninterrupted and focused time devoted to a singular task without giving in to external interruptions or internal distractions) while I work on the outline, the character development, and the worldbuilding. Once I have a strong outline and strong characters, then I can begin the rewriting process.

Cheshire and Brooks, of Hollow, by Ben Hummel

Cheshire and Brooks, of Hollow, by Ben Hummel

As silly as it sounds, the simple act of keeping a sketch of the characters on my wall at the dayjob has done wonders. My boys stare at me everyday, Cheshire with his scalpel at the ready in case he thinks I’ve got a heart that would sustain one of his kind and Brooks with his hand over the failing stitches in his chest to hide his weakening tie to the earthly plane. They aren’t going anywhere, and I know it… but I also know that they deserve a better story, and that story is going to take more time in the telling.

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 26th, 2014 at 8:04 pm and is filed under writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Taking the Nuclear Option – Draft 6”

  1. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    I’m glad this story is working, even if it’s slow. I know some stories take longer than others to write. When this one’s ready, it will come. If it takes a lot of work and learning along the way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Doc Coleman Says:

    Is the abyss a physical place, or a metaphysical place? If physical, then opening a rift to it would sunder your high-rise building as you pierce each level to connect to the pit. But if it is a metaphysical place, then you can open a rift anywhere. The floor of a penthouse? No problem. Heck, open the rift on the ceiling and dangle someone UP at the opening and threaten to drop them all the way to the bottom of the pit. Metaphysical rifts can cause damage to the building’s structure, but it is less obvious. More of a rotting of the building’s soul than gross physical damage.

    As for the carpet, a demonic crime lord would have his minions take steps to protect the carpet. And woe be unto the one who allows a single drop of blood to stain his rug. Woe indeed.

    Do you have someone who is a sounding board for this story? Someone who you just go to to vent about what doesn’t seem to be right? It seems that a lot of writers find that having someone to give a new perspective, or at least blow off steam, really helps in finding ways to cleanup these type of issues.


  3. Veronica Says:

    In this story, the abyss is a physical place, albeit a separate plane of existence. All of my engineering bells and whistles started to go off when I was writing, so… yeah. I can’t break the floor that many times and not worry about cracks in the concrete. :)

    I used to have someone who was the sounding board for the story, but he switched jobs and has been very busy with his own creative ventures. He was the one who inspired the story (some of the best conversations ever) and he’s read several drafts, but… no, I haven’t had many sounding boards. Closest I get these days is my husband, whose talents are not in the creative writing sphere. He’s a great reader, but he often can’t say why something doesn’t work with a character or storyline, just that it doesn’t… but he does have a good sense of pacing in a story, so there is that.

    I’ve started handwriting outlines and character descriptions, which has helped slow down the thought process and force me to answer questions that I hadn’t considered with the characters and the settings, but… yeah. I tend to function as a sounding board for others and their stories, rather than the other way around. My take from that is that my idea isn’t interesting enough for questions, so I go back to my notebook to make it a little better so that it can be more interesting and worthy of discussion.

  4. Doc Coleman Says:

    Well, your crime boss obviously has money. If he owns the building there is no reason why he can’t live in the penthouse, but still have a private elevator to take him directly to a sub, sub, sub, sub-basement which has been specially re-enforced to deal with the stresses involved in hosting a dimensional rift to the Abyss. There may even be reasons why the rift must be placed in this special hidden basement. As I alluded before, you can even have fun and put the rift on an odd surface because that is the plane that aligned correctly with the other dimension. Dimensional rifts don’t have to adhere to conventional physical laws.

    I’m tempted to volunteer to be a sounding board, as I really enjoyed work-shopping your story on Writer’s Round Table, but I’m clavicle deep in projects right now and I don’t think I would be able to respond in a timely manner. I’m still trying to publish a book before the end of the year and I’ve got edits of my own to do. Sorry, I’m just a mess right now.