Tag Archives: the spirit of my house

Malice Draft 1 is finished!

Or rather, draft 0.5 of the novel that doesn’t even have a proper provisional title. My first draft is always more of a glorified outline that points out everything problematic about my initial conception of the project.

It’s clocked in at about 72,000 words (for the uninitiated: 75,000 words is a SHORT novel, too short for the fantasy genre unless it’s YA), which has me estimating the fleshed-out Real Draft 1 at around 100,000 words (the short end of average, for fantasy that isn’t Game of Thrones-style epic). About 60-65,000 of those words were written in Mongolia, with an additional 20,000ish words of outline when I reworked the plot in December.

The good:
– I can write in Mongolia! Keeping to a regular schedule has been really, really difficult for me here. I’ve been averaging slightly under 2,000 words a week here, where in the States — for the last three years! — I’d kept to a relatively steady 1,000 words a day. It’s good to see the words building up, however slowly.
– I have a solid outline to work from. The main characters are more or less fleshed out, even if their arcs kind of wander off into the sky somewhere around the draft’s halfway point; I know the major sticky points in worldbuilding and plot logistics.
– For the first time ever, I’ve *finished* something novel-length, and it’s (more or less) shaped like a novel!

That said, I’m not really satisfied. I never am, not by a first draft. I get to the end and I look back at all the things that don’t work with equal parts irritation and eagerness to dig back in. Coming as it did in 500-word fits and spurts, the completion of this draft is even less exciting than usual — I never really built up a consistent momentum to keep me enthusiastic about the story. Still, I’m pleased with the draft insofar as it goes, and I’m looking forward to the first rewrite.

What’s next?

While I’ve got a pretty good idea of what needs fixing, I’m going to set the first draft aside for a month or so, so that I can look over it with fresh eyes before coming up with my next plan of attack. I’ll probably do some worldbuilding, outlining, and character work when I do come back to it, rather than jumping headfirst into the next draft.

In the meantime, I’m going to be working on a strange secondary project I set up shortly before coming to Mongolia. I’m expecting it to be novella-ish length and I don’t quite know what it’s about, aside from sentient houses. I can (hopefully) finish that first draft within two or three months, and then return to the Malice project.

writing while abroad

Today is my first full day of Staging in San Francisco. Hopefully I’ll have time to sketch out a post about it before we fly out Friday morning. In the meantime, let’s talk writing!

In October 2014, I attended the Viable Paradise writing workshop, where I learned about story structure and long-term career strategies. Since then, I’ve mostly worked on short stories. Short stories are self-contained, relatively quick to write, and easy to submit to online markets. They’re a good tool for learning the fundamentals of my craft[1] — basic story structure, compelling characterization, clean prose, a drafting/revision process, etc.

For the next few years, I’m returning to long-term projects. This is partly because I won’t submit to paying markets while overseas; I can’t guarantee access to the internet or a printer/scanner, physical mail will take weeks or months to reach its destination, and (most relevant) the Peace Corps does not permit volunteers to work for alternative pay sources during service. I don’t want to write stories only to have them sit on my hard drive for two years — especially since I’ll want to re-revise them after that long in the trunk.

But it’s also a stability thing. On average, I draft about 5k a week — a full (and fairly lengthy) short story. I’m juggling three or four projects at any given time: drafting, researching, aging it in a drawer, trading critiques, revising, line-editing — bouncing between different-stage stories to keep my eyes fresh. The reason I learn so quickly is that I have to reassess my progress every week in order to decide which project is the best use of my time.

This was manageable when I was working a job that didn’t require a ton of creative energy or critical self-assessment, but in Mongolia the majority of my attention is going to be taken up navigating a foreign culture and new responsibilities. I need something I can plug away at for weeks or months at a time. So: the novel.

I have two projects to work on over the next year or two. The major one rehashes a very bad year-old outline. In its world, people protect themselves from an invisible plague called malice by installing ward-sigils on their houses, roads, and vehicles. It features a vaguely scary as-yet-underdeveloped governmental authority, dinosaurs, zombies, and badass freelance ward-artists. I’m spending a lot of time picking my brain about class systems, the existence of institutional “non-persons”, and the power of fear and people’s unthinking instinct to conform to the perceived reality their society projects.

I’ve also got a weird little thought experiment about sentient houses who protect people from their worst selves. It’s a little bit moralistic and it’s shaped like a folk tale — I’m not sure which of those two caused the other. It looks like it’ll be around 20k when it’s finished (which, for the non-writers in the room, is rather a difficult length to sell), but it’s unusual enough and coherent enough for me to keep puttering with. I don’t like it, yet, but it intrigues me.

[1] (Granted, a lot of these fundamentals function very differently in a long work vs. a short one. The structure of a novel is obviously a lot more complex than that of a short story, and my process of building it changes as a result. But every story needs a beginning that introduces just enough information, a middle that develops in a deliberate way, and an ending that feels conclusive; and ‘framing’ a story — excluding ideas and characters that fall too far from the key developments of the novel in order to make the story feel cohesive — is a universal necessity.)