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How do you fly this thing?

Scene 1: Two escaped convicts with a posse on their heels come upon an old barn where a biplane is stored. Hearing the dogs barking behind them, they resolutely jump into the plane, bust through the barn door and escape into the air, leaving the wardens behind waving their fists in the air.

Scene 2: Our heroes eventually run out of fuel. Unable to land the plane they crash into a henhouse somewhere in the boondocks. Worse for wear they dust themselves off, shoo a couple of chickens off the engine, and say in unison: "I thought YOU knew how to fly."

I'm starting revisions. The first draft is done, and I am quite confident it contains a story worth reading. I got the story into the air, so to speak. The problem is keeping it on a more or less consistent course. And, like any person unfamiliar with a cockpit, I'm staring at all the gauges and levers and handles, thinking, "This won't be a smooth ride."

I can identify some of the problems, of course. One of the characters changes personality halfway through the story and acquires leadership skills he didn't have before. The main threat against the world, a host chaotic monsters, have different ways of reacting to magic and acid in the beginning and the end of the novel. Another character rather suddenly meets an old acquaintance that we haven't heard about before. Oh, and the organization she was once a part of changes name three times.

All this is easy to fix because I spotted the problems already. But there are also less tangible issues that ultimately hinge on gut feeling and experience...

First, I need to balance the right amount of information and background with moving the plot forward. To exemplify: The main character is a lampmaker, whose magical gaslights have been exploding for mysterious reasons. During a crucial conversation with a strange lady in chapter 2, he learns that the explosions are possibly caused by a growing imbalance in the world--a transmutation. Two past transmutations have changed the world dramatically; a third should be avoided if possible.

I have a host of information I want to convey at this point: Show that the lampmaker loves his life and home and is reluctant to abandon it to help a probable end-of-the-world loon. Describe the possible consequences of a transmutation. Introduce a connection between the lampmaker and a different continent, where the second half of the novel takes place. Mention one of the outlandish tribes living in the city, because we meet them two chapters later. Describe the magical substance that fuels spells and is crucial to both the economy and the plot. Not to mention balancing the lampmaker's caution with a growing fascination with the strange lady.

Obviously I have to save some of this for later. But which parts? Will I destroy the balance if I move things around too much? Will the reader be confused because of too few facts, or bored by too many?

What if the lever I'm about to pull is the one that dumps the fuel?

Another problem centers on how I make the storylines for the four characters merge in a way that adds tension to the novel. The four characters each experience the unraveling of their world in small ways, but they never have access to all the pieces of the puzzle. Only the reader can see all the signs, and that raises the tension markedly (or so I hope).  But at the same time, all the characters are (ideally) pursuing their own goals; if they are to remain authentic, I can't have them wander off just to find the next piece of the big mystery. But I can't let the plotlines become too disconnected from each other either.

This is actually less of a problem than the information balance, as the plotlines in the first draft generally goes in the same direction. Still, there is an issue of balance here that I'll be struggling with during the coming weeks and months.

And then there are all the problems I haven't considered yet. And that gives me occasion to aks what you're all struggling with when you're revising your novels.

I'll eventually call in the flight instructors (aka first readers). For now, though, I'm very excited to see if I can keep this story flying. I hope I'll be able to invite you all on an interesting flight once I get the hang of it all.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
Jakob, I'm surprised your head hasn't exploded like one of those magical gaslamps. (Cool, btw!)

You have your process all mapped out. Up there ^. Take each paragraph of necessary changes you've listed one at a time. Don't worry about how many times/drafts it's going to take. Trying to grasp EVERYTHING as a whole will drive you mad, and in the end, it'll be a miracle if your head DOESN'T explode.

With each "problem" addressed singly, you'll be amazed by how some of the other, less tangible "problems" fall into place. I think this is where so many writers get totally frustrated with writing. Once the first draft is done, they look at it and start thinking. Thinking is good. Too much thinking will liquefy the brain.

Aesop had it right--slow and steady wins the race. :)

Good luck. And have FUN!
Mar. 10th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your advice! I'm glad you're taking such an interest in keeping my head intact :-) (Incidentally, I rather like it that way myself.)

I like your approach to the problems. I was thinking along the lines of one chapter at a time, but I didn't quite see how that would solve some of the 'overall' problems of the story. But attacking those one at a time could work for me.

And yes, it is FUN! Especially since I have enough 'fixable' material to make good headway.
Mar. 10th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
Glad to be of service, sir, and so glad I can do this small bit in the fight against your head exploding. ;)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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