Sometimes you need to get away from it all and think about life to the backdrop of cool reggae music and a great view. Felt like carrying the camera this time, this is the Kingston Dub Club.
I’m back at the coveted landmark for my novel writing, which is 100 pages. Now is this really a big deal? I mean does it matter if your manuscript is 100 pages if you are writing a 1,000 page behemoth? Well fortunately for me I am not writing a tome fit to be split into several books. I decided that a good novel length for the projects i like to write don’t need to pass 180 pages. My range is 150-180 pages. For this new novel, I don’t intend on going past 150, so i’m 66% done technically speaking, but it feels more like the home stretch. Five to ten pages a day for a week or so and I should be done with the first draft. But why write a blog post on this? No reason really, i just felt like showing people i’m close to being done. After this i’m going to dive into wrapping up another project, a set of short stories and do some updates on that progress. So i’m up at 4 in the morning doing some writing/patching up and thought i’d post this.
NOTE: This image has nothing to do with writing, although imbibing liquor tends to be part and parcel of a writer’s M.O.
So I felt like writing about all the connectors that start to fall in place at this point. I’ve probably mentioned it before, when I was writing Naked As The Day, but each time I reach this point something interesting happens.
Basically, the kinds of stories I’m tackling right now are a bit… abstract in some ways. I take a central idea (love, loss, regret, passion) and then weave that into a narrative involving a character that grows and grows until it becomes a story. So far, I realize the stories I’ve written (which are heavily character driven ) require a lot of character development to carry the plot (which isn’t always the most important aspect of the story). After all what is plot? Do I need villains lurking about and mysterious men with Israeli army training making offers people can’t refuse? Not in this project. But I did have some difficulty starting this novel for that reason.
“Abstract ideas” are really what they are… abstract. If I see a man on the road crying beside his son, who is listening to his iPod and I am moved to tell a story leading up to that moment. Where do I start? Who is the man, who is the boy and why isn’t he reacting, why is the man crying in the street? These are the questions that were pounding in my head during the preparation of my new novel, which was based on the premise of a suicidal man who meets a girl the night he wants to kill himself, a girl who takes him out of his malaise.
But the story is a lot more complex than that, since I had to dig deep into the environment of Kingston and create an atmosphere that justifies the protagonist’s weirdness. This was the “abstract” that was a bit tough to figure out. The tone of his voice, his perceptions on the world, the scenarios he finds himself in good or bad, his background his pain, his sexual proclivities, all things that need to be set in stone to flesh out a character.
So after writing and plotting out a few chapters, I found that the writing so far is more dense. In my first two novels I had shorter chapters that set a pace to what was happening. Because this one is more open-ended, the chapters are much longer. For comparative purposes, Naked As The Day had a total of twenty six chapters, running at 75,00 words (2,800+ words per chapter). I’m currently at 41,000 words for the new book and on Chapter nine (average 4,555+ words per chapter). I don’t’ think this means that I’m going to have twenty-six chapters of the new book which will turn it into a 100,000 word book. Probably during the editing I will break up some of the chapters, but for now they tend to run eight to ten pages each. This actually fits with the mode of the story and the “stream of thought” manner in which is it written. This book can easily end at fifteen or seventeen chapters, since that will take the book into 150 page territory, which is my aim.
But my main observation now is that the “sense of the universe” I’ve created is much clearer. There is less doubt about how to write certain things and deciding when to introduce certain character and conflicts. I guess this might be a repetitive theme with my observations, but sometimes when you create a story from nothing and it starts to take shape, going from 4 pages to 80, there is just something about that which makes me feel as if I’m doing something correctly. So there is still significant writing to do, but from this point on I feel like I’m closer to figuring out all the little angles that were confounding me when I started this book. I can see how something’s might play out as I push towards wrapping up the first draft.
I’m working on a new novel, which I haven’t made much mention of because for the next few months, i’m planning to simply release projects as I do them, to conserve energy. The last time I was writing a novel a few months back, I did a lot of blogging in between to give people a sense of the process and its demands as I went through the various hurdles. This time, there is no need for that. I started about two weeks ago and i’m at 60 pages, which isn’t bad since I’m aiming for 150 or so (roughly the same length as Naked As The Day) and this book has its own challenges for a few different reasons. The book is about a young man who has suicidal tendencies living in present day Kingston who is gradually being eroded emotionally and decides to take his life. At some point during the plot development, he meets a girl from Germany who snaps him out of his malaise and for a moment gives him a reason to stick around for a while longer but with a catch, she has a boyfriend at home, so refuses to give him her name, dubbing herself “BERLIN”, which is going to be in the title of the novel.
So I didn’t give anything away really, but I decided to write this book in the present tense to really draw people in in a different kind of way, because when I read novels written in the present tense, it is the closest to being “there” that I can imagine. It also gives a very “stream of thought” flow to things, because the plot is unfolding in what appears to be real time. This isn’t exactly a writing experiment, seeing how I tend to start my novels with a free flowing essay that determines the direction i’ll take the novel in. So when I started this one, I kind of kept it in this tight, present narrative that pushes you into the scenarios, keeping you close.
With Naked As The Day I wrote it in the first person past tense, which is the usual way novels are written. This did a lot to draw readers in (as they have told me) and I was curious to see if I could take it a step further. Now, I prefer writing in 1st person past tense or the third person, because writing in present tense means you have to really watch all your sentences so you don’t slip into the wrong tense. Also, you tenses change if characters reflect on things, so jumping back and forth can get tricky, but once I finish the first draft and start editing i’ll see what kinds of patterns and mistakes I commonly made. But because the protagonist is sort of in this state of fluctuating chaos, I feel that this style of writing brings you deeper into that sort of mind, deeper into the dark.
The book is also set mostly in Kingston, and this isn’t your typical Kingston. It is a Kingston of shadowy after party scenarios, bitchy girls and people who take and sell drugs, celebrities and uber celebrities, dudes with chaotic brainwaves and obsessions with fashion and old girlfriends all under the backdrop of a unseasonal cold that is blanketing everything. The pace of this is very different from my last two novels, and I would say it is more raw in some ways that the last two combined.
The themes i’ve been tackling in my novels have gradually become darker and though I used to worry about alienating readers, I’ve found that as a writer, the story you have inside you is the story you want to tell, so you might as well tell it, regardless if it is filled with dark images, highly charged sexual situations and bad people. Naked As The Day takes you sort of behind the scenes in the Tokyo life of fashion, models and a guy searching to make things happen. Sex, Drugs & Jerk Chicken took you into the minds of three young men facing different crises in their lives, and how they adjusted to life in the city, being broken, getting stronger and deciding the best way to grow up. This book, because it is set in Kingston is a lot more personal that a novel written in DC or Tokyo. This is home, where naturally many things overlap contextually as things are being written. A man feeling bad in a story set in Kingston can naturally trigger memories in me of feeling bad at some point in time, but as all writers know, such emotional warfare comes with the territory.
The process so far has been interesting. I’ve never written something in this fashion before, and writing constantly in stream of thought is… delicate. It is a lot more visual in a different sort of way, like I have to place myself in each situation vividly and keep the pace going without stopping. In other forms of writing i’ve done I can breathe a bit between paragraphs depending on what I need to write, but with project the pace doesn’t stop, because it is almost like writing one chapter for the whole book.
Either way the process continues and at the very least, despite some recent and quite significant emotional challenges, I am still writing a few pages most days, hitting 3-5 thousand words per day which isn’t too shabby and i’m hoping to finish the book by the end of March so I can jump into another project. I must say that it wasn’t very easy figuring out the narrative for this book. I wanted to start and finish in January, but it wasn’t coming to me, and I had to really think about the book’s direction a LOT more than than I did with Naked As The Day, which I wrote in a total of 17 days. But this isn’t a speed race right now. I’m trying to see if I can release a book per month, or per month and a half as long as the stories are heavily outlined and I stick to doing my 3-5 thousand words per day. (3 thousand word per day equates to 90,000 words in a month which is way past the 75,000 mark where I usually keep my books).
So i’ll release some information about the book as time passes, and hope I don’t lose too much momentum during my birthday week!
Had fun hanging with a few friends celebrating another year of life! Hope to hit some big goals in 2014!!