Monday, June 20, 2016
Some Severe Pruning
Warning: this post contains spoilers for Whispers of the Dead, and I recommend reading the book first. Also be warned that this shows the ‘sausage-making’ aspect of writing, which some of you may not want to know about.
I’d decided to write a new book based on the premise behind an old one, and the first thing I needed to do was get rid of a lot of deadwood that had dragged down the original novel. I wanted to get to the heart of what was truly great about the idea, and that meant discarding the merely good, things that may have worked but not well enough.
I started by scrapping everything that had followed from the end of the short story I’d written in the beginning, because I wasn’t satisfied with where it had gone from there. Then I tossed the scenes leading up to the one where Roshike and Teresa break into the Batsu’s Osaka headquarters – although I wasn’t calling them the Batsu yet – because I wanted to reconstruct the background for the world, which would also mean recreating the events that drove Roshike and Teresa into that disaster. Also because that night was the impetus which would propel the story, and I didn’t want to waste any time getting to it. I wanted to start there and lean forward.
Eliminating all of that plot left me with a single strong scene I believed would make a great first chapter. It would firmly establish who Roshike was, what he was trying to do, and the stakes involved, as well as start sketching in the background of the world in which he moved. But to do that right, I needed to get rid of still more.
The worldbuilding I’d done to understand how this post-apocalyptic Japan had come to be worked in essence, but a lot of the details of the Batsu, those behind it, and the system with which they oppressed people, were too generic. So I got rid of those vague and unsatisfying particulars, as well as the (relatively few) specifics I’d established about the mysterious mountain dwellers who’d raised Roshike. I wanted a clean slate to start developing those clashing cultures again from scratch. Especially now that I knew much more about the larger landscape of the history behind them from writing the Slowpocalypse series (and knowing where that would go.)
In tossing so much of what I’d written, I also threw out the entire cast of characters except for Roshike and Teresa (and one stock villain, and I ended up getting rid of him too.) But that was all to the good. I didn’t want the rather flat supporting actors who had once populated the plot I’d pruned. I realized that because I was starting with the same seed for a story as I’d had before, I might need people to play similar roles, but those old characters were dead to me now. That left me free to find new people who would be alive in my mind and drive the narrative in new directions. Even Roshike and Teresa would not survive unscathed.
Although I had a clear understanding of who those two were in essence, their personalities and what motivated them, I decided to torch their personal histories and discover their backgrounds all over again, what had made them who I knew them to be, and try to get a better grasp of what made them tick. Their relationship, too, would have to be re-examined, and I didn’t know what it would end up like. But I knew it had to be different.
Demolishing so much of what I’d put a lot of effort into creating was painful, but finding something new and exciting in the rubble would be a lot of fun.
Next: Part 3 – Finding a New Foundation