Sunday, 29 November 2020

A River of Words

Art by Lily Moses 
Art by Lily Moses

Well, I've had a lovely Sunday. I woke up late to the sound of rain, which continued most of the day. I poured myself a lake of coffee and heated up some cinnamon buns from Kigali Farmers' Market. They come with this sort of delightful vanilla icing that you melt on top. 

Once I was settled, I opened up my current WIP (that's writer speak for 'work in progress'), and started typing. I managed a respectable 3,250 words and I'm probably going to add another 500-700 to that before calling it quits today. 

Other than the research, there is no part of this story that feels difficult so far. It's just falling out of me. However, that in itself does cause a problem. As some might have guessed from the working title, Akkad, I'm tackling the story of the first author in history. 

The word author is from Old French, basically meaning father or creator. So, it's sort of ironic that the first ever author we know by name was actually a woman. Come to think of it, the first novelist, Murasaki Shikibu, was as well. Then men took over the show and women had to take on men's names just to get a publisher. An issue that apparently continues to this day

All of that aside...

The thing about this character is that her father was also a first. He formed the first known empire in history, the Akkadian Empire.

The problem I have been grappling with is that it's quite hard to tell her story without first telling his, at least up until the point of her birth, because his story shapes hers. He elevated his daughter to the position of one of the most powerful women in the known world. It's because she was in that position that we have so much of her writing. 

I'm splitting the novel into books, like I did with The Children of Lir. As with CoL, the books represent chunks of time. The first book is called The Legend of Sargon, and it's meant to tell the story of how her father came to create an empire. He actually left a written account, some of which survived to this day and informs my story, though I'm taking it with a heaped tablespoon of artistic license. 

The problem is that I'm already at around 25,000 words and I'm only halfway through the introduction.

If I was sensible, I probably would have split the story into two books: his and hers.

But I'm not sensible and I don't want to do that. 

His story interests me only to the point where hers begins.

So, I'm writing the first book in third person and the second in first, so that she has a stronger voice than her father. In essence, she will have told her father's story in order to get to her own.

But it troubles me. I usually have a fairly balanced sense of how long a book will be. Like many first-time authors, I started out small at around 70-80,000 words. I then started landing at around 90,000, and nowadays it's between about 100-120,000. Like any muscle, your writing benefits from exercise and you find you can lift more weight. 

Now, I feel like I'm on steroids. 

Longer books don't always mean they're better books, and, in an ideal world, it shouldn't matter how long a book is so long as the story is good. However, in marketable terms, it does matter a little. People don't always like long books, therefore publishers are wary of them, and reviewers often won't take them unless there's a really long lead-in period. 

It's the opposite issue of writing a novella.

There's sort of a sweet spot for acceptable speculative fiction, and I think I'm about to overshoot it. For example, the sweet spot for a chapter is supposedly around 3,000-4,000 words. I'm finding it hard to contain them at 5,000 and have already had to split one in half.

It's worrying me because this has never happened before. I've never been quite this prolific. I feel like I've filled my brain with Cola and added Mentos. 

I'm certain things will calm down a bit, they have to, and I'm still a million miles from writing all the words I think I'm going to, but I feel that's where it's headed. Plus, the more words you write, and the faster you write them, the harder you start to doubt yourself. It's like climbing a tall tower and looking down - it's a lot further to fall (or to fail).

Thankfully, the lovely writer Paul Magrs started an online gang where a few of us gather to promote new work and cry about old problems. I needed reassurance over the first/third person switch and someone came up with a couple of examples of that having worked for other authors in the past. 

I'm still not sure, though. Successful examples usually involve alternating first/third person throughout the book, whereas I'm literally going for one fat chunk for third, then moving on.  I don't think I've seen that done before and I might find out there's a good reason for that. 

Sometimes you wish you could go back to a time before you knew anything about genres, publishers and markets. When you just wrote without ever thinking about the technical aspect. You wrote because you were fully engrossed in the story and you never planned for anyone else to read it. 

Unfortunately, Pandora, box, opened.  

I just really want this book to be as epic as it is to write.

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