Thursday, March 01, 2012
My Novel's Journey: The Old Man in the Void--Lessons Learned
It's been a little over a week since I finished the Old Man in the Void (which I think I may change to Dex's Way.) The past week has been full of guest blogging and e-mailing and organizing the Live and Let Fly book tour (48 stops and counting!) and writing school planners for a company I work for. I've hardly given the book a moment's thought, except as one remembers a terrific friend. But today, I'm thinking about what I learned from my friend.
Most of you know this, but to summarize: The Old Man in the Void grew from a discussion my husband and I had on a family trip to Moab. I was holding off finishing Neeta Lyffe 2: I Left My Brains in San Francisco because I needed to talk to some sources. I wanted to do something different to stretch myself as a writer--nd we'd heard that Tor was looking for Space opera. I thought it would be fun to do a sci-fi based on a classic novel (kind of like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Rob suggested Hemingway, who wrote a lot of great, Manly adventures, like The Old Man and the Sea. I was a math major in college; I'd never read Hemingway. So it sounded like an excellent challenge.
Lesson #1: Look for challenges. They stretch your imaginations and your skills. You'll be thrilled if you succeed; and if you fail, you will still have learned.
Lesson #2: I can think as a plotter. I've been a seat-of-the-pants writer almost from the beginning of my career. But to follow The Old Man and the Sea, I had follow Hemingway's plot, but with my own characters and universe. I plotted the novel out as I read his book, trying to match major event and theme, and for the most part, I feel I succeeded. however...
Lesson #3: My characters and stories will not stay bound. Even though I followed the plot I'd written for the most part, I could not stay bound just to that plot. (Good thing, too, or it would be a novella.) New characters showed up; subplots came out of the blue: Dex having visions? Alien gods playing tricks on each other and him? And of course, once I got to the end of the plot, when Dex should have just gotten Santiago back, nice and easy, found a new apprentice and gone on his way, he takes over the book and changes so much! however....
Lesson #4: If I trust my characters, they will tie things together. All the myths of Elomij and Hudon on the Bloody Road were just some interesting mythology--or so I thought as I was writing along the plot. When that path ended, however, and the next part of the story began, they informed everything that happened next--how the future aliens treated Dex; how the alien culture developed; even Dex's romance. I may go back and strengthen some of the ties, because when I was writing the first part, I had no idea those little extras were going to be so important. Finally...
Lesson #5: My writing had been getting stale. Because I was writing comedy, with lots of fun and fast-moving jokes leavened with some heartfelt scenes, my phraseology was more about getting to the point and moving on to the next fun bit. The slower pace of this story, however, plus the serious tone, demanded a different narration style. I read other books, harder or military sci-fi, in order to absorb some of that. As with plot, I'm sure it morphed into something different as well, but now I've stretched myself that way, too, and I have those in my writer's toolbox for use later.
No matter how much experience you have as a writer, there are still things to learn--and sometimes, the best way is to check out how other writers did it--and then jump in and try it yourself.
Next week, I hope, I will start editing Neeta Lyffe 2. I think I'll do some short stories, maybe revisit the collaboration story a friend and I are doing for fun, then in April, I'll start on Gapman!