Back to the Novel

Okay. So, apologies for the geeky in-depth writing stuff, there’s probably going to be lot of it for the next month, will try to intercut with flower and food photos, I promise.

I went back into the novel again, starting with re-reading the crit notes from the last critique group meeting. Lots of good stuff. Amazingly, the main changes I had in my head that I knew I wanted to make weren’t actually in that document at all, but thankfully I remembered them.

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1. I think it was Dan Percival who read an earlier draft of this and said that I was writing a gothic romance. I definitely didn’t go in thinking that, but in retrospect, yes, I think that’s basically right. There’s a girl, she’s having marriage problems, money is a huge concern — I’d sort of been thinking of it as Austen-in-space previously, as a space romance.

But there’s a whole other thread; there’s a spooky, foreboding house, there’s a war and disease majorly affecting events, there isn’t a supernatural element per se, but the alien / genetic engineering aspects have a similar effect — strange things are happening to human beings, and they have to try to keep themselves whole in unusual changing circumstances, with dark forces arrayed against them. That sounds a lot like sci-fi gothic to me. Is that a genre? Maybe not yet, but it should be. (Recommendations for other sci-fi gothics would be welcome!)

So going back into this draft (the 5th, maybe) with all that in mind is going to be helpful, I think, letting me fine-tune details to tilt in that direction, giving the work more coherence overall.

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2. The other big thing is about time. Wednesday night, I joined a book club via Zoom; they’d read The Stars Change, and one thing they all really loved about that novella is that the events all take place within 12 hours. It’s very tight in that aspect; I did that deliberately, and I think it works well there.

I tried to do something similar when I was drafting this book, and had the events all taking place within one week. But I think that was really a big mistake — it led to a sense of implausibility, with explosion after explosion, for one thing. The violence felt a little cartoonish, which isn’t what I was going for. And on the flip side, the romance aspects felt implausible too.

I do think people can fall in love very quickly — I think I fell in love with Kevin about six hours after I met him; we were in somewhat intense and heightened circumstances, which helped. But I was trying to make the book do so much work, making those relationships grow intensively in that tiny bit of time, and the thing is, there’s no real reason for that constraint, for keeping it to a week. In this draft, I’m going to try giving it more space, I’m thinking about a month for the events of the novel. I think that’ll give me much more emotional room — room to fall in love, room perhaps to be betrayed, and really feel that betrayal.

That also speaks to how tightly I write, how condensed my wordage is. The current draft is 60,000 words, and I think the bones of it are right, the plot structure, finally. Which means that I have a lot of space still where I can flesh things out. I can add lots of scenes, I can add lots of description, I can add backstory and meaty dialogue, all of which should make the book work much better overall.

Unpack, Mary Anne. All that stuff that’s in your head needs to be at least gestured at on the page.

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So it’s taken me about 90 minutes to do a revision of chapter 1, and I’m now about 3000 words in. It’s not absolutely final — I think I could still use more sensory description of the landscape, for one, and I’ll probably start with that for tomorrow’s work, before heading into chapter 2. But I’ve moved some sections around, foregrounding a romantic element in chapter 1 that just wasn’t there at all in the last draft. Go, sci fi gothic romance. Let’s make this clear in chapter 1, or at least lay the groundwork.

Good work for the day, and I’m excited to keep going. In chapter 2, I’m going to try to do a better job delineating the relationship between father and daughter, and highlight Maya’s character flaws, the ones that lead her into a bad situation.

Honestly, I kind of want to just keep typing now, but my fingers hurt, and I know better. Better to go away for a few hours at least. But happy to come back with a clear plan, and some urgency for doing the work. Really really happy.

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