Seven frickin' Wonders: Half freakin' way

And in the nick of time too! Seven Wonders has crossed the magic 50,000 word mark (in fact it’s about 51,000-and-something even), and with a month to go, I can basically give myself a little personal NaNoWriMo challenge – 50,000 words in a month, or 1667 words a day. Right on target. And 50,000 words – half a novel – is nothing to be sneezed at. Seven Wonders is also about proving that Dark Heart wasn’t a fluke. It’s a milestone, no mistake. Sure, in ten years time I’ll look back and laugh at how wonderful I thought it was, but novels are big, long, scary, frequently heavy items. I’ve got 1.5 under my belt now. Top show.

I have to admit it’s also a relief to get Seven Wonders to this point. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I’ve found this novel to suffer from the “difficult second album” syndrome, but I’m starting to see this as a good thing. My next book is number two in the Dark Heart series, which is plotted, outlined, and sitting at the starting line with steam-powered engine revving. It’s going to be a good story, and I’m looking forward to writing it, and I’m glad that I hit the hump in Seven Wonders and not that one.

But that’s not to say Seven Wonders is suffering as a consequence, or is that annoying, must-get-it-done second novel that I’ll fling into a draw and forget about. Not at all. I knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge, and I deliberately made it so – the modern-day setting, the third-person narrative, these were conscious decisions made to ensure that Seven Wonders would be completely different in every way to Dark Heart – style, tone, setting, language, the works. Although I didn’t set out to construct an unclimeable mountain, or set impassable traps and roadblocks, I did begin with the intention that it was going to be a learning experience.

Like anything, writing requires practice. Having completed a novel in pseudo-Victorian first-person, I needed to write one in modern-day third-person, just to see what it was like, and whether or not this suited my personality. As it happens, I don’t think it does that much, but I’m making a damned good hash of it. Perservering out of my comfort zone is teaching me an awful lot about long-form fiction, which – given that I’m just a beginniner – is essential for me to improve my craft.

Which brings me to an important concept for all writers to remember: you are allowed to suck. The first draft is the vomit draft – it’s you typing out the story, transferring it from your head to the screen/paper before you forget it. Some bits will be great, some bits will be terrible. But the important thing is to get one word down after another until you reach the end. Then you can go back and fix it. Later. At the end. When you’re finished.

I’m trying to remind myself of this rule this week because while I’m hitting my daily target of 1667 words, for the past few days they’ve not been terribly good words. The story has reached a very crucial section where
Several Big and Important Things need to happen that change each and every one of the individual characters, effectively finishing Act II (most of which I haven’t really written yet) and leading into the final third.

It’s almost because the Several Big and Important Things are big and important that it has been very, very difficult to actually integrate them naturally into the story. First there was a big fight out on the streets of San Ventura between the superheroes and the supervillain. Then everyone went to the moon, and a couple of shocking secrets were revealed. There’s another fight (on the moon this time), and now the superheroes are retrospectively figuring out what went wrong, allowing them to return to the Earth and start Act III.

Which sounds great in the outline. And actually the outline is quite detailed at this point – this happens, that happens, X says that, Y realises this. But writing a story around it was surprisingly difficult. What has happened is that apart from the two big fights, the superheroes have basically sat around a table and discussed things very seriously for about a million pages, which is not only not particularly interesting, but at first glance seems to be the classic trap of plot exposition and info-dump. Take your protagonists, sit them down, and they’ll chinwag about the story for chapters without actually being involved in it.

Except – and here’s the problem – this is pretty much what the Seven Wonders would do anyway. They’re a committee of seven, they have big shiny conference rooms with 3D computer displays. Sitting down and talking about stuff while pretty graphics fly around is exactly their idea of fighting crime.

So what am I doing wrong? I’m worrying about the first draft, that’s what!

Yep, the last 3000 or so words will need reworking, probably significantly. But so what. All I need to do now is move everyone off the moon as quickly as possible (less chin-stroking around a conference table I think), and then on with the exciting Act III.

Panic averted. Carry on.