Last month you’ll recall I talked, in rather gushing form, about The Messenger, my project for National Novel Writing Month last year. It was a bold experiment in terms of craft – I was flying by the seat of my pants, rather than working in my more plotted out way – and in terms of style – it was to be a sci-fi romp, something a bit more fun and light than my normal stuff. November was great – I “won” NaNo – and December was all about finishing the thing up.
Well, let me tell you, December sucked. In the words of my perhaps ancestor Robert, things gang aft agley. Hard.
I expected progress to slow down some, without the motivation of NaNo breathing down my neck. For about two weeks I did pretty well, but soon enough my lack of planning caught up with me. Mind you, I didn’t even know how this story would end when I started it, which is startlingly rare for me. Even if the middle bits are squishy I usually start with an idea of the beginning and the end. The more I pushed into The Messenger the more I realized I didn’t know where it was going.
I also started to worry more and more about continuity in the story. Things are always a little out of whack with first drafts, but usually I have copious notes to fall back on. Here I didn’t and it made it easy to get stuck in particular scenes, since I had to dig back through what I’d already written to try and tie things up. More often than not I was finding that I couldn’t tie them up, not in this draft anyway.
So, just as things were getting a little grim, the Christmas break showed up. I was off the entire time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, as was the wife, so plenty of time to finish up The Messenger, right? First I got sick (Merry Xmas, huh?), then the wife took her turn. Any motivation I had for writing dried up quickly. All the doubts I was having about whether I could finish this draft piled on and, as sometimes happens, The Messenger became a smoking crater. It’s dead, at least as a complete first draft.
What does that mean going forward?
Well, for one thing, it means The Messenger is on the back burner for the time being. Hopes of having a solid draft just in need of polishing are out the window. It will take some serious work to get right, work that I’ll be putting in on The Orb of Triska and its sequels for the near future.
For another, it means my experiment with pantsing proved one thing conclusively – I can’t do it. I went out, performed without a net, and fell flat on my face. Oh well, lesson learned.
Another lesson learned is that, maybe, writing big space-based science fiction isn’t for me. I never intended for it to he “hard” sci-fi. In fact, it has a disclaimer at the beginning about how it’s more “Dr. Who than Dr. Asimov” and sticklers looking for strict scientific accuracy should look elsewhere. Nonetheless, when you start flinging characters (of various species) across the galaxy things to worry about pile up. It’s entirely possible that The Messenger may wind up as a fantasy, rather than spacey sci-fi, story.
I still like the basic story of The Messenger. I like some of the things I created to fill in the universe in which it was told. None of that’s going to go to waste, but I can’t say it’ll wind up being what I intended it to be going in. That’s the frustrating joy of writing – almost all the time you wind up with something other than what you intended.