Sunday, October 19, 2014

14 Things I Learned While Writing Untitled Icarus Novel

Sometime in the summer of 2009, I had my first idea for a "real" novel.  This marked a turning point for me.  Ever since then, my life has been a swirl of first drafts, dragons, red pen, fire towers, word counts, Greek mythology, and a growing crowd of fictional people orbiting in the space dust of my imagination.

I've written two full novels now, and each has taught me more about writing than I can list here.  Sometimes, each book taught me different things, and sometimes, both books reinforced the same thing.  Here are 14 things I learned while writing my latest novel: (you can read about the plot, characters, etc. here)
  1. I need to outline more.  After finishing my first novel, I thought, "Well, that worked, but it would have been so much easier if I had done more planning in advance."  So I did more planning before beginning this new book.  And it still wasn't enough.  I got stuck a few times, and I found myself wishing I had done even more outlining.  I guess I'll have to go nuts with my outline before starting my next book.
  2. I think in fandom references, and sometimes I don't know how to relate to people that don't work the same way.  I can't even count the number of times I had to stop and remind myself that Steve Rogers is not a household name.  And even then, I probably refer to him more than is a smart idea.  How can I not, though, when his story is such a huge inspiration for mine?  Still, I had to tone it down.  I could carry out a whole conversation in fandom references without hardly trying, but most people can't.  Aren't ordinary people adorable?
  3. Dual point of view is harder than it looks.  When you read a well-written book with two (or more) different points of view, it seems effortless.  Yeah, there's nothing to it--you just write about a different character each chapter!  Nothing to it!  Well...no.  Skilled authors make it look easy, but my first experience writing dual POV tells me that it's anything but easy.  It adds a whole new level of things to watch out for.  I have to keep my overall plot arc going, but I also have to make sure it's balanced between the two characters, and that I switch POVs at strategic places.  It can be a logistical nightmare.  I had so many scenes where I thought, "Whose POV should this be?  It would work for both, and it involves both."  In the end, I had to figure out which character had more at stake in a certain scene, and give them the POV.
  4. The very first story you envision after getting the initial idea is always laughably different from how it turns out.  The very first seed of this idea was of a boy who was never hurt by a fall, obsessed with building and perfecting a pair of mechanical wings.  It would be quieter than my previous book, and would explore the boy's complex relationship with his grandfather.  I wanted it to be lyrical and literary.  I ended up writing a borderline sci-fi/fantasy semi-thriller about two angsty teenage boys, a malicious organization named after a Greek monster, sketchy scientific experimentation, and Icarus himself.  The grandfather is long dead.  Basically the only things that stayed the same were the obsessive wing-building and Everett's ability.
  5. I don't know how to write a thriller.  I don't know how guns work.  I don't know how the police system works.  I don't know how to break into buildings.  Is there some sort of prerequisite course that all these authors take before writing a book like this?  I must have missed that memo.  Everything I've learned about any of this, I've learned from movies.  That's definitely how the pros learn, right?
  6. I have way too much fun withholding information from my audience.  I am their goddess.  I am omniscient.  Except when I'm staring at a new chapter and how no idea how to start it.  We're ignoring that.  Thus, I will have to keep secrets from my characters and my readers.  And if that means never explicitly stating what, exactly, my main character did to get arrested two years before the book begins, so be it.
  7. I am physically incapable of giving readers an ending where the lead boy and girl end up as a happy couple.  A friend of mine has given me a hard time for this.  Like I discuss in number 13, this type of ending in my own writing makes me uncomfortable.  I'm not really sure why--it's just not my style.  I'll give readers ambiguity, but I won't serve the romance to them on a platter.  In my first book, a hint of unexpected romance popped up on its own (that type of thing happens--characters do their own thing), but I never let it get beyond subtext and my personal vision of the story beyond the book.  And even then, it's not smooth sailing for my main character and leading lady.  In my latest book, the main girl is the ex-girlfriend of one of my MCs.  They don't get back together, but she says she'll try to be friends with him again, for the time being.  That's as far as it goes.  Maybe it's my love of vague endings, or maybe it's just my inner Moffat.  Who knows?
  8. If I come up with a headcanon for my own book...it's canon.  I don't know why this was such a revelation for me.  It should be obvious.  Still, it makes me feel like I have so much power.
  9. Male main characters are my thing.  Some writers make a conscious effort to include equal amounts of male and female characters.  While representation from both genders is important to me, characters tend to pop into my head as certain gender, and once that happens, there's no switching it.  For some reason, I just envision them as one gender or another, even if it doesn't really matter.  My story would still be the same of both my POV characters were female, or one was male and one was female.  So far, though, it seems that I'm gravitating towards male main characters, and I'm not sure why this is.  Despite this, the gender balance tends to work itself out on its own.
  10. New characters appear of their own accord, or established characters develop their own backstories.  There's no way to avoid this.  I didn't expect Everett's mom to play such a big role, or to be such a complex character.  I didn't really put much thought into her, either--she just happened.  And she adds an unexpected twist to it.  This happened during my last book, too--two unplanned characters ended up in the book, and they turned out to be two of my favorites.
  11. Endings are terrifying.  There is something safe about the first draft.  You know that nothing has to be perfect, and this gives you a safetynet.  Don't have every detail worked out right now?  No problem!  After you write the ending, though, you have to start revision.  And that's scary.  You actually have to figure things out.  You no longer have the "I can fix it later" cushion.  That's a lot of pressure.  Plus, when you're done with that process, you're done with the book, and then you have to leave it behind, in a way.
  12. Stories have a way of fleshing themselves out on their own during the first draft.  When I started writing this book, my biggest fear was that it wouldn't be long enough, that I wouldn't have enough story to carry it for a full novel.  For most of the writing process, I was nervous about whether I'd hit 70,000 words.  I ended up at 77,000 (and that's with an ending that I already know is too rushed).  It turns out that I had plenty of story.  Things expanded and took new turns along the way.
  13. Completely happy endings make me uneasy.  I don't like wrapping everything up in a pretty little package and handing it to my audience with a smile.  I like satisfying endings, not happy ones.  (Actually, I like unsatisfying endings, too, but that's a whole different story.)  Yes, my characters may have overcome the antagonist, but there's still a lot of work to do.  Personal problems have started to get better, but they're nowhere near fixed.  I would much rather show just the beginning of the healing process, rather than the healing process itself.  My view is this: If you've just gone through this entire book and these characters are not permanently changed in some way, why bother?  What's the point?  This change often involves damage.  That's how fiction works.  That's what gives it conflict, makes it interesting.  And if there's been damage, the ending can't be 100% happy.  Does this make me an evil plotter?  I'm working on it. 
  14. Titles are hard.  As you can probably tell from the fact that I'm still calling this book Untitled Icarus Novel.  The title of Secrets of the Legend Chaser just came to me out of nowhere.  I never put much thought into it.  For the longest time, I was using it as a working title, but I realized that I liked it more than anything else I could come up with (and I was used to it).  So it stayed.  Here, I don't even have a working title.   

This is by no means a complete list, but it just goes to show that every novel teaches you something, even if it never sees publication.  What have you learned from your recent writing?

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2 comments:

  1. I'm always searching things like 'how to pull off a drug heist' and 'how to break into a military base' on google. I'm forever worried my computer's being watched because of it XD

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    1. I know the feeling! There's actually a website that has information like that--things that are either sketchy, illegal, or both. It's collected legally, so there's no need to worry about it. More info here: http://maxkirin.tumblr.com/post/84970161524/so-let-me-guess-you-just-started-a-new-book

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