As you all know, I recently finished writing a series of novels. In this case, it was a trilogy, and one connected novelette. It’s been a bit of a strange ride, but finding myself at the end of the creating part is a new experience.
These books are in the range of 100k words each, and novelette is 50k or so, making for 350k words worth of work, most of it written in the past eight months. Including everything that’s gone into it, though, we’re talking more like 550k easily–half a million words. I’m pretty proud of that.
Doesn’t the saying go that to be a good writer you need to write a million words? I think I did that a while ago, but if I hadn’t, I have now. My writing style hasn’t changed, because I solidified my voice way back in my fan fiction days, but certainly it’s gotten clearer. Instead of reading a passage and being not sure why it feels immediate or distant, I can identify exactly what needs to be done on a sentence by sentence level.
More than that, I’ve come a long way, as far as feeling the structure of a story goes. When I finished writing A Better Man, the first draft, back when it was 158k words of hot mess with an extra narrator and about twelve excess subplots, I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. I didn’t know how to make it better, or how to solidify it. I wasn’t even sure how long a typical novel was. Used to reading 200k fan fics, mine seemed reasonable.
Editing A Better Man down to its 100k size was a test for me. 10k off the first pass, 10k off the second. I eliminated a narrator and 30k fell off at once, and then I was unstoppable. Chop chop, anything that didn’t fit, went. I tidied up scenes, tightened up plots, re-wrote, clarified. Wrote another book and came back and did it again. Wrote a novelette, edited. Wrote Book 3.
There’s still much to do. Book 1 is going to the editor this very week, which is thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Book 2’s recent edit actually ended up being unnecessary. I went in thinking it needed a full hard edit only to find myself fiddling with commas, which in my experience means it needs other eyes or to call it quits. The novelette also needs other eyes–I’ve taken it as far as I can go. 3 will need work, but it also needs to rest.
And so what do I do now?
As much as I’m glad to look back on what I’ve written and see how far I’ve come, I find myself a little lost. This has been such an enormous undertaking. I began in 2011, writing here or there when I had time and inspiration, but this past year I’ve spent entire weeks submerged in the world of Simon and Erin and Connor and Mick and everyone else I’ve written about. They’ve gotten hurt and they’ve grown up and they’ve fallen in love and straight back out. Become better people, and much, much worse ones.
I left them where I wanted to leave them, but that’s the trouble: I know that one of my characters is done. I loved writing him, found him fascinating and interesting and enjoyable to write, but he’s done. He’s just done. I don’t have any wish to go back inside his head, or to write further novels about him. I did have plans for a book 2.5–I have half of 1.6 already done–but for now, I’m calling them quits.
Some people can mess up so badly you can’t let them back in. Well, turns out characters can do it too, and that sucks.
I can’t say who, because I do hope that you’ll read the books and find out, but there it is. No more writing about him. He might come back later on the peripheries, but he’s done as a main character, and certainly as a protagonist. Yet I’m not sure I want him to return as an antagonist, either. I understand better than anyone why he did what he did, and why I’m done with him, but I’m not sure I want to make him a full antagonist yet. Guess I still have a soft spot.
Writers, I’m sure you’re nodding along, been there, done that. I know I’ve heard Katharine Tree say more than once that there’s a character she can’t write again because of what he did. I didn’t quite get it at the time, but I do now. I #donewrote and have learned better.
Or perhaps you are saying, “That’s so silly; I’ll never create characters like that.” Perhaps you won’t. Perhaps all your characters will do grand, good things. They will never walk the slow beat to hell, feeling powerless to stop what they didn’t begin, painfully human.
Non-writers, this might all sound very strange to you. They’re fictional. They’re not real. Go write some new ones.
But they are real; they’re real in the same way our ancestors are real, people in history books are real, movie characters are real. We learn about them, and the learning changes us. If it affects us, it must be real, because if it isn’t, it couldn’t do that, could it? Things can be real even if we can’t touch them.
I’ve spent a few years with these people taking up a huge amount of my waking energy. Now I’m not quite sure what to do.
I have another book in my head, one I want to write. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve written before, but I’d love to try it. I know the beginning, the middle, and the end, which is a weird concept for me. The characters don’t have names yet, but I’m working towards that. Like a rebound relationship, this book, I think, will get me through this weird period.
Because it is weird. It’s very weird. It’s a let down, and I can’t even talk about what happened with all of you because that would spoil the end of my books. My husband knows, my alpha reader knows, and Catherine Townsend knows due to helping me untangle a few things early on, but other than that? I mourn all to myself.
I’ll write that new book, I’ll keep blogging. I did that maze the other day just to give myself something to do, and I’ll probably do a few more things like that. Rebound and move on.
That’s the thing with characters, though. I create them, live them, change them–and in the process, they change me. Stare, and the abyss stares back. And that’s part of this process, I guess.