BrightGod progress (sorta). Thoughts on voice.

So, this weekend I scrapped what I’d done on BrightGod and started over. Again.

The first version died at 1500 words. This one was almost 5000. Pew pew pew, as they say in video game land. Poof.

I’d like to think it’s a sign of my growth as a writer that this doesn’t bother me anymore. There was a time when this used to frustrated the heck out of me — especially back when I was a kid writing novels by hand, and any loss of words represented a substantial loss of time and energy. Writing by hand is slllllloooooooow, especially when you’re a slightly-neurotic kid who only writes in number 1 pencil (smears less) on college-ruled paper (can get more words on a page) double-sided (can buy fewer notebooks; small allowance) and has shitty handwriting (requires frequent rewrites). Greatest inventions in the world, typewriters/word processors/computers. Anyway, I still have those old handwritten novels, most of which were done between the ages of maybe 12 and 19. (They suck. Don’t ask to see them.) And for every completed one I have in my files, there are maybe two more that petered out along the way. In every case the ideas were good — er, for a 15-year-old — but the voice wasn’t right.

I should clarify. By “voice” I don’t just mean the character’s voice. I mean the voice of the story — the way it sounds when it mutters in my head.

Hmm, that makes me sound schizophrenic. Let’s try that again.

I mean the story’s overall flow and direction, specifically its point of view, pace, and narrative tone. Some authors use the same voice for every novel they write, even if the characters and world and mood change entirely. I’ve never been that lucky. =( My voices change depending on the novel — though not usually within a series of novels, I’ve noticed. Sometimes it’s the world that demands a certain kind of voice, even if the characters change. I think that’s what’s happening with BrightGod, actually. 100K demanded a weird sort of voice — first person, moody, dry-witted and a little cynical. The narrative was… huh. I don’t know what to call it. “Didactically non-didactic”? Sometimes the protagonist broke the fourth wall and told the reader things, and sometimes those things were unimportant. Sometimes they only seemed unimportant. Sometimes they were dead wrong, but still important. Sometimes they were right, and pointless. Whatever the heck you call that.

Anyway, I’ve known from the beginning that I needed to keep that style. The universe of the Earth and Sky gods is fundamentally damaged; the menage-a-trois at its core is broken, so the societies and people who make up this universe are a little cracked too. I needed a voice that would get this across, and this is the one that came to me. Did I sit down and think, “I need a cracked voice to convey the ‘broken’ theme of this world”? Good grief, no. I wish it was that easy. I had to write the damn thing. Write it over and over. Heck, I wrote the whole novel over from scratch, literally. That’s mostly because this “didactically non-didactic” voice is a very tough voice to master. It rambles. It speaks too fast at some times, too slow at others. Occasionally it gibbers. And getting it down right… well, I think that’s just going to take a few tries. ::shrug::

There was a time when I fought this process in myself. Maybe this was a holdover from the days when I hand-wrote everything, but I would not give up a story for anything, even if I began to realize that the voice was wrong. It was a simple matter of discipline, I believed; if I just bulled on through, I’d get used to the voice. Butt in chair. Wordcount wordcount wordcount. This is the process drilled into all writers past a certain professional point, I think. Don’t sweat the details, fix them later, just get the damn thing done.

But I’ve finally come to understand: this doesn’t work for me. It’s sound advice for probably 95% of writers, but I guess I’m in the 5% for whom it’s utterly wrong. I’ve just tried to follow this advice — and failed — too many times to believe in it anymore. If I push a story once I’ve realized the voice is wrong, it doesn’t yield. It breaks. The voice sounds increasingly dissonant and grating, I start to hate it, and the story dies. This is why I’ve never been able to do anything like NaNoWriMo; I would kill three novels in the time that I’m supposed to write one. The last time I tried to force the issue was with my last novel, Dreambile (that one hasn’t sold yet… alas). I got 20,000 words into that one before I gave up.

Let me repeat that. Twenty. Thousand.

They were damn good words, too. But not the right words.

Which I suppose is why it doesn’t bother me to scrap the 5000 words I’ve done on BrightGod. They weren’t the right words. ::shrug:: Better to find out now than 15,000 words later.

Anyhow, I’m pleased that the latest version (just 750 words as yet) feels much better; this time I’m definitely closer. Have I hit the mark? I can’t tell yet. Might have to scrap this version too. But there’s no other way to determine whether the voice is right than to just write as close as I can get to it, and listen, and write a little closer, and listen some more, until I hear that faint little sound that tells me I’m there. It sounds kinda like, “Bing!”

…Or maybe that’s just my email client bleating at me again. Whatever.

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3 Responses »

  1. This is something that I’ve been thinking about/wrestling with myself of late.

    I’ve wondered for a while if there’s a relationship between “need to rewrite large chunks of prose” and “propensity to outline,” and at least casually I’d be interested hearing about your outlining process… Do you outline extensively before you start writing something, or are you more “by the seat of your pants?”

    I’m of the “don’t rewrite unless you have to and someone tells you to,” school, but I’m not sure that thats all that adaptive in the long run.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be odd commenting on past entries, but I was reading through your archives, and it caught my interest. Anyway…

  2. Hi tycho. I do tend to outline, extensively. There was a time when I didn’t, and would just sort of plot by the seat of my pants, but then a few novels back I tried outlining and was really happy with the result, so I’ve been a dedicated outliner ever since. I’m not good with plots, to be honest — I can come up with good ones eventually, but it takes a lot of effort and turning pieces around to see if they’ll fit. So outlining is one of the ways I do that. But I leave myself open to change, because although my outlines are really detailed (the one for 100K was 19 pages), new ideas and sometimes whole new characters will appear to me. Then it’s a simple matter to adjust the outline and keep going.

    I never rewrote before 100K, just revised. In truth, 100K started life as a completely different (and inferior) novel maybe 10 years ago. I trunked it for a long time, but then dusted it off and took another look, and realized the bones of a really good story were there. So I wrote it over again, and was really happy with the result. I keep thinking I might take another look at some of those old teenage novels of mine, one day. =)

    No prob on commenting on old stuff; I have comments sent to myself by email anyway, so I don’t miss anything. =)

  3. Hi, Nora–I apologize too for commenting on this old, old post, but after reading it, I’m starting to wonder if I’m part of your 5% too… I know precisely where my novel is *supposed* to go because I also outline extensively. But I just can’t seem to move my characters along from point C to point D at the moment. @_@ Reading 100K has made me a little self-conscious about how formulaic the way I’ve approached my story is… It’s in third person and starts at the young boy hero’s “home base,” from which he’ll set off on an adventure after a mishap sends his peaceful normal life for a spin… Urgh, that hurt just to write, it’s so formulaic… =__=

    I like the intimacy of the first-person SFF narrators that I’ve read in 100K and recently, Patrick Rothfuss’s “Name of the Wind,” but I’ve always, always imagined this book in third-person because it was originally a manga idea and (for obvious reasons) those are always in “third-person” view (so to speak). But I think it might be choking my creativity now… argh! I don’t know what to do because I’ve spent about 3 years writing (and revising) these first 3 chapters I’ve got and they’re pretty much glowing like moonstone from all the polishing I’ve done… But I’m stuck. @_@ Do you think I should toss it all and start from scratch in first-person?

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