On January 26th of this year, While making a run at the final edit of the final book in my Veiled Earth Trilogy, I spotted a terrible digression and some plot flaws and had to excise a few words- thirty thousand, basically.
That took the manuscript from complete at 88k to not even close at 58k.
Today I hit 88k, having revised and shored up and extended and inserted and… god damn it. I fell in love with what should have been a one-sided, plot moving, opposite-of-the-hero type villain. I suddenly realized I had a human being on my hands, who had lived, learned, grown… in other words, became real, with drive, desire, remorse, and all the good things about flawed people. Someone who wasn’t a villain in their own eyes, and managed to convince ME that maybe they weren’t either. And their changes are being reflected on all the other characters, making everything move in different directions than I had planned. It obliterates the ending I’d written, of course, but that’s par for the course.
It fundamentally changed the scope of the book. It changed the nature of what Iw as trying to say with this particular set of books, and it made the heart of the story what ALL stories should be- about people trying to figure out how to be people, despite life happening aggressively all around them, the best they can, whether they succeed or not.
If my estimate is correct, this one’s gonna top out at about 100k.
And… I don’t think I’m wrong, or playing up my own work, or bragging, when I say this story’s gonna be good.
Personally, _I_ can’t wait to see how it turns out.
This is a perfect example of how a writer is not just suggested to, not just encouraged to, not just required to, but FORCED to allow the story to tell itself. There’s a lot of theory as to where the story comes from, whether it’s just grabbed out of the ether and condensed into hard copy by our willing little fingers, whether it’s meticulously planned and outlined, whether symbolism is intentional, accidental, or whether the story is like a Rorschach blot- you see what you impose onto it.
There’s a million ideas about it, but what I believe, truly believe in my soul, is that these stories are there, in whatever I have that passed for a subconscious. Stories I need to tell not because of the story, but because of who I am as a person. I’m a storyteller. That’s what I do. But what about the story itself? Do I write it? Do I just write it down? I think the answer’s probably a combination of everything, just like people are a culmination of every experience.
The story I’m telling in this novel, which will be called Savior, is supposed to be the idea that a man can change the world. It’s supposed to be the idea that we live in a world of which we can truly be in control. That we have the fundamental power to change our reality if we have the drive, the will, and the hard-assed guts enough to make the necessary sacrifices to do so.
The Veiled Earth trilogy, beginning with Magician, and continuing in Marty, was originally the story of an unlikeable asshole who also happened to be right. The stories break down into that simple truth- sometimes a prick can be right. And you don’t have to be nice, you don’t have to be politic, you don’t have to be easy-going. Sometimes, being right is right enough for anything.
The guy is an asshole.
I fill the books with his journey because I wanted to have a single uncompromised character. Someone who remains, against all odds, the same from start to finish. Someone who is a rock against the tide of life: he’s unchanging and unchanged. He’s the epitome of the axiom: don’t let the world change you. Be who you are, no matter the odds.
The guy is a grade-A prick, and he’s RIGHT. There’s no question.
And I failed. I realized that in order to get where he was going, he’d HAVE to change. That change, as anathema to his character as it was, would be his path to success, not failure. And I realized it was about coming to grips with compromise.
The villain was the opposite of that character. Dark, evil, twisted, and willing to be whatever was needed to accomplish the goals to which this character had devoted itself to. (Yeah, I’m being vague. Have to. I don’t want to give shit away.)
And I failed.
Throughout the course of this book, I had a simple goal in mind, a hole into which I wanted my peg to fit, and I’ll be fucked sideways if I didn’t try to force that bastard into the hole, despite the evidence that it wouldn’t.
But, as I have integrity, I realized that a forced story is a terrible story. That you can’t constrain it. I have to let the story be the story it wants to be. I trust it. I have to. I know right from wrong, I know good from bad, and more importantly, I know my process. This is how it HAS to be.
And that brings me to my point. Recently on a board of which I’m a member, someone asked how the others on the board write- do they plan, to pants-seat it, do they outline, how do they write?
Sometimes you plan, and sometimes the plan, plans YOU. This story is bigger than I realized, bigger than I planned, and more complex, rich, and allegorical than I imagined. It’s a good story about people. It’s a good story with good people, bad people, the differences, and the similarities we all share with those people. The moral may be lost, but the essence is still there. And I’m doing what i set out to do- tell a rollicking good story. That’s my goal every time I sit down to write.
I write because I have to. I do it well because I SHOULD.
The story had other plans than mine in store, and when it came time to fish or cut bait, I let it have its way. I trimmed the bad parts, and I salvaged the good parts, and I let what wanted to be born come alive in the bones of this book. I let it drive, and I haven’t been disappointed. And in return, the story gave me a character to love that isn’t loveable, but is real, and that’s why I love them. I sometimes shed tears for my creations because the have to go through shit no one should have to go through, but I love it when they square their shoulders, face it, and smile.
Let your story be what it needs to be. It WILL tell you. I promise.
It’s up to you to have the courage to follow it into all the places it has to go.