Like thousands of writers across the country, I participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. It’s an event that happens every November where writers dedicate themselves to beginning and finishing an entire novel. The general target is 50,000 words or more.
Also like thousands of writers across the country, I came nowhere near finishing the novel I started.
That’s life. But that doesn’t mean I’m stopping.
I’ve had this particular story in my head for several years now. It originally began as an outlet to write about a few of my roleplaying characters and get back into their heads when I lived two and a half hours from the nearest game. But it evolved into something much bigger as I outlined it, scrapped it, outlined it again, trashed it, completely revisited its story, outlined it again, pushed it to the back burner, dusted it off, changed the characters, and outlined it one more time.
Starting this past November, I picked it up again. The past year has mostly been spent writing and submitting short stories (five of them are still circulating out there, just waiting to be picked up), so I figured it was a good time to work on something a little bit longer.
I finished the outline within the first few days of November. This book, the first part of my fantasy series, was going to be a 33-chapter story, including prologue. Figuring an average of around 2,000 words per chapter, that would put this book at around 66,000 words. Certainly not the longest, but it seemed like a decent target for a first try.
Yeah, I didn’t finish the manuscript. Honestly, I barely even started it.
I started writing the prologue for the story on the first or second day of the month; I can’t remember exactly. I even marked the occasion with a rare Instagram post:
That image is no longer accurate, unfortunately. Within a few days of starting the prologue, I had an idea for a completely different start to the book — one that I liked much better than the one I was writing. So I did what I always do: completely scrap it and start over from the beginning.
I’m a few pages into Chapter One now, and things are going much better. I adjusted the outline to accommodate the new prologue, and everything kind of fell into place from there. I have more confidence in the story I’m trying to tell. My cast of characters is larger and more diverse, and individual characters are more well-rounded than they were in my previous effort. There is more symmetry to the story, and it feels a little more complete on its own. Though it is the first part in a series, I want it to also be its own self-contained story. It may be asking a lot, but I envision the same thing for every entry in this series. It will continue the story that came before it while still telling one all in its own. Theoretically, a new reader could pick up the second or third book and still enjoy it without feeling like they were missing anything.
Chapter One of this story is mostly spent establishing the protagonist’s “ordinary world” — the daily life he experiences before I absolutely destroy it in Chapter Two and really get the story going. Since the first chapter is mostly setup for the rest of the story, it’s a great opportunity for world-building. This is where I get to weave in all those little details that make the world of this story seem more… real. It’s the background of the movie that’s playing in my head as I write it. No worries, I don’t go crazy with description. I keep it fairly simple. What I see when I’m writing it is probably slightly different than what someone else will see when they’re reading it, and I want to allow for that. It’s why I’ll never describe exactly what characters look like or what clothes they’re wearing unless it is distinct and unique or somehow integral to the plot. Maybe one or two vague adjectives, but that will be it. I love learning how other people interpret things.
As I was writing the other night, an image appeared in my mind. I was describing where the protagonist and his father live, a small hovel outside of a large, walled city, when I began to see shipwrecks. Dozens of shipwrecks. Airships a thousand feet long once crewed by hundreds of men, crashed and partially buried in the sand dunes of the desert outside this great city. The image stayed with me, and it became a part of the story. The first of the crashed ships were remnants of a war that occurred hundreds of years before the main story. Latter additions were castoffs from a more recent war, one referenced in the story itself that took place just a decade before. The empire at the heart of the story began to use that land for an airship graveyard, and even the wall of the city behind it was constructed partially from materials recovered from the shipwrecks, giving it a distinct look that makes it instantly recognizable to seasoned travelers. It also served as a wonderful base of operations for my protagonist and his father, a retired engineer and shipwright who loves to tinker.
It began as me simply describing the terrain. It ended with me creating a small bit of history for this boy and his family, as well as for the country and the world around them.
This is why I love writing so much. I might begin a story, but it often ends up telling itself. I just choose the words.
Probably a bit too carefully.
Which explains why it took me a month to finish a 2,500-word prologue. Oh well. Less time spent on editing, at least.