I’m sitting here with my story open. It should be the easiest thing in the world to write.
You see, I’ve talked about the novel from hell before on this blog. It’s an idea, characters, plot that I’ve had since I was 12. It’s even a fairly decent one, ten years later. The original, when typed out (it’s actually the second draft; the first is still all in notebooks down in the basement) clocks in at 301,904 words. I’ve reread it only a couple of times since it was typed up. There are moments where it is cringe-worthy awful, where it’s clear that I had no idea what I was doing and everything is stilted and sounds like a monkey could have done better. And there are still scenes in it that I can read over and think “wow. I got *everything* right for those two pages.” It is a massive opus of a novel; there are at least three dozen important characters and the scene changes often and unpredictably. But by the end of typing it up, by the end of those first two handwritten drafts, I know these characters better than I know some people in real life. At it’s core, it’s a story of fear and war and treachery and despair that turns into redemption and courage and heroism and sacrifice. But that original novel, which is now on its fifth computer, isn’t anything even remotely like publish-worthy and the problem is that no amount of editing can make it so. Massive chunks of it need to be rewritten. Entire subplots need to be overhauled. The knowledge of a 22 year old who actually knows something about world politics now needs to replace the hopeless imaginings of a 12 year old who figured she could make it up as she went along. A handful of the characters who are adults need to be rewritten so that they don’t sound like mopey teenagers.
I’ve been trying to do it for the past decade. I’ve got a whole subfolder in my writing folder that’s called “novel from hell”. It’s incredibly badly organized and things are as uselessly titled as v2.5.2 or such things. Or else “idea” or “something” or “scene”. When I get up the courage to work seriously on it, it usually takes me at least forty minutes to find the relevant file. I have rewritten it so many times. I have jumped back in time and tried to write the story that comes first, which is just as interesting. It has jumped from Russia to Canada and back again. Nearly all of the main characters have switched names once or twice, and some of them have then gone back to their old names. (I mean, come on. A character named Nicolaas and the same one then named Gregor sound like two totally different men to me.) I still haven’t decided if I’m even capable of writing it yet; I suspect I’m not. I won’t ever stop trying and I’m sure that one day, I’ll wake up and some of the more fundamental problems will have answered themselves. I’ll know which bit of the story actually has to be written.
For example, do you start back when one of the protagonists is in university and first decides that he can/has to fix the world? Do you start after he’s figured out how to do it? Do you start it when he starts the war? Midway through the war? At the end of the war when he dies and his son betrays him (which is where the original story starts)? Because the story *used* to be about his son, Ivan, betraying everything after he decides that he doesn’t want his father’s world any more and turns against his father’s organization, and ultimately leads humanity to victory over it. But there’s a just as compelling story to be told about Vasily/Nikolai/Nicholas, his father, and the rise to power and ultimate doom. Oh, yeah, and the difference between the two is that the Ivan story portrays his father’s organization, Svoboda (Russian for freedom), as the terrorists that they really are and the Vasily story portrays them as idealists with a cause and the means to get to a better future.
Anyway, one day I’ll figure it out. Until then, I keep the characters alive in a number of ways. Mostly through silly stories that would count as fanfic for the damn thing. One of those is the one that’s open right now. It’s supposed to be emotional and powerful, and I’m sitting in the middle of a pretty important scene. It’s even one of the rare ones that gets a name (as opposed to the dozen documents I’ve got which are all snip[number]). I know what’s going to happen, I know how it’s going to happen. Yet I’m just kind of staring at it; since Wednesday, I’ve written not quite 250 words on it.
I’ve told myself that I’m not allowed to look at any of the drafts from NaNo until January. It’ll take me a while to get through them, even if on the first read I’m just trying to get broad sweeps of what does and doesn’t work. I don’t want to work on something brand new right now; I’ve not even got any particularly good ideas lately. I could troll through my possibles folder and see if any of the ideas grab me, but I don’t really want to. And I definitely don’t want to sit through the agony of trying to come up with a clever way to rewrite the novel from hell so close to Christmas. Leaving me with “The Last Day that Mattered”. Which obviously just doesn’t want to be written. In that, it gets something from it’s parent/predecessor/family.