Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Last Quarter Swamp

For the past few months, try as I might, I haven't been able to return to writing - and ultimately finishing - Project V. I've become disinterested with the story, which I have been away from since early October because of sickness and Nanowrimo. Although I know how it ends, the forthcoming story feels flat and murky, and I can't get back into it no matter how hard I try.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. I seem to have a Last Quarter Swamp, where I get bogged down by the chaos of what's come before and can't reach the end that is so close and yet so very far away.

This is a side effect of being a discovery writer, since I start writing without a clear idea of the characters and plot. Instead I create as I write, coming up with things as they are needed. This is all well and good as a quick fix, but things conjured on the fly can prove weak with time - and sometimes don't even conform to the progressing story. By the time I hit the Swamp, I find myself with one giant mess of a book. How am I supposed to create a viable and satisfying conclusion from utter chaos? So I become overwhelmed and ultimately lose interest.

For me, story creates character. But the snag lies with the fact that you really can't write a story without a character. It's very chicken and egg, where you can't have one without first having the other. I do start with a rudimentary knowledge of the main characters, but I discover who they truly are as the story progresses, watching how they react and interact with the world and story. And as the characters develop, so does the story, revealing new angles and areas I hadn't initially imagined. Which then expands the characters even more, which in turn expands the story even further... It's a vicious cycle.

But as the characters and story grow, they leave behind an outdated mess that isn't of much use, creating a 1st Draft from Hell. And you wonder why I have yet to finish a full edit?

I'm happy to say that, instead of abandoning the story as I normally do, I'm working through the Swamp by brainstorming. When in doubt, go back to the drawing board. Right now I'm pondering the main character - especially who was, i.e. backstory. So far it has been an amazing discovery of epic proportions that will shatter the very foundation of my story, mainly because it adds two new characters into the mix (one in Book 1, and one in Book 2). This will cause me to undertake major re-writes of the 60K+ words already written, but it will ultimately deepen and broaden the book. (Who knew he had a best guy friend growing up? And a girlfriend? I certainly didn't.)

Ultimately, with this new material re-piquing my interest, I hope to return to writing Project V soon, either re-writing the first 60K or finishing the story (badly, but finishing). (And yes I know, "everyone" recommends I should try to finish before re-writing the rest.)

But first: Brainstorming the world. Might as well get the major disruptions in all at once. ;)


  1. Don't sweat things like that. The way I see it, it's all part of the learning process. I have a habit of discovery writing 30k, then stopping and completely debunking everything for the second draft. And the words aren't wasted until you throw the story away.

    This time, instead of discovery writing the second draft, I am forcing myself to sit and outline the whole thing. (By whole thing, I mean a line of description for roughly each scene, so, still not very detailed.) But I'm working through plot problems before I've spent hundreds of hours typing. As much as I hate it and find it HORRIBLY boring, I think it's been useful. One of those necessary evils, I guess.

    Check out Susan Dennard's blog, she has a whole series on re-writing on her For Writer's page, and she posts blogs about how many complete rewrites she's done on her books. It's very motivational, and makes me feel less bad when I axe 10k on a whim.

    Also, these words of wisdom from Lilith Saintcrow:
    "Above all, keep writing. If you have not finished a piece yet, you need the experience of finishing in order to gain some small amount of perspective on the process, and to prove to yourself that you CAN. It wasn’t until my third or fourth finished manuscript that I began to see the pattern and the various ways I would try to trick or sabotage myself out of getting the damn thing well and truly done. Like facing any fear, the first time is often the hardest. Then you know you’ve done it at least once, and you have object proof that the world didn’t end and it perhaps wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.
    When faced with this, I am reminded of something Stephen King had Adrian Mellon, a minor character in IT, say. “It may be a terrible novel,” the writer remarks, “but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” That’s always stuck with me. Whether the book sucks or not is not important. You can’t hope to get better at writing a complete book without writing complete books, which means finishing. Just try to keep in mind that the perception of your “style” changing and suddenly sucking may not be the absolute truth, and if it is, well, you’ve a better chance at fixing it when it’s seen in relation to the whole, finished story."

  2. Some more words of wisdom, from Chuck Wendig:
    "I am the Commander of these words.
    I am the King of this story.
    I am the God of this place.
    I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started."

    Loves me some quotes. =]

  3. Working on a character's backstory really does help the plot, since you already know your character enough to know how they'll react in situations. I have a lot of development left to do with my own MC, and my main villain, and pretty much every other character in my story.

    A tip on getting through that swamp. Have you tried writing the story backward? or at least writing some of the ending and filling in the spaces as you think of them? I sometimes do patchwork stories where I'll write a scene when it comes to me and then work it into the story. It helps me not get bored or stuck.