Where is Where Things Went?
The image above succinctly explains where I am at. As of this August it has been exactly 2 years since I started writing my fantasy novel Where Things Went. I wrote a blog post last year around the same time celebrating the completion of the Act I rough draft. It was truly exhilarating to have finished something even if it was only a 33k word novella and the first part of a grander narrative. I was so satisfied I naively thought I could go back, do a couple rounds of revisions/edits, and then maybe release Act I fully to the public.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t because I disliked what I wrote, not at all! I was and am still supremely proud of what I’ve accomplished. But after several rounds of edits and experimentation with chapter restructuring I felt a tad bit of emptiness. When doing my best effort to read the book as if I were not the author, as someone entirely unfamiliar with my world and characters, I found it confusing. Not only that but I wrote myself into some serious binds with how I built the world and how I didn’t build it. In the process of writing I was completely consumed by the plot.
The sequence of events and how they connect to each other is something I obsess over in any story I enjoy or write. In writing fantasy, especially one of the non-Tolkien variety, I took for granted the absolute essential need to explain things. I loathed descriptions and explanations. I hear often in writing circles the tendency to overwrite. I am the exact opposite. I am an underwriter (and not the banking kind). I want people to just get it! “If I drop enough hints and people think hard enough we’ll be on the same page,” was my unspoken assumption and silent modus operandi.
This stemmed from a longstanding insecurity I had about my writing and my tremendous inexperience specifically in the genre of fantasy. The longstanding insecurity was whether simply writing a book was ultimately a concession to my very visual imagination. It should be a movie! A TV show! A comic! An animation! Anything but a book surely would be better (even though I had no expertise in any of these mediums nor the means to realize a story in them). I have often been obscenely obsessed with music and art, but the process of making art or performing music never enticed me. Writing, words, language, this is what I genuinely enjoy doing.
But my imagination reached so much further!
It was, ironically, through listening to advice from artists and being a bystander learner I realized even artists can’t perfectly project what is in their mind onto a page. These skills are a craft for a reason. Creative is almost a misnomer because we don’t “creatio ex nihilo” like God. We’re all craftsmen. We can have an image in our mind, but realizing that image comes through some tangible means. Also, what we have stopped up in our heads often isn’t nearly as complete or wonderful as we might think. Through the act of crafting in any medium the constraints that limit us may also come as a form of inspiration.
All of this is to say when I wrote my first draft I wrote it as I saw it in my mind. This severely lacked sensory details like what is proper to the strengths of books as a medium because I simply watched the movie in my head and wrote it down. I also had some esoteric rules regarding how sense worked and how bodily or human-like the creatures are. All of this created a severe mess that detracted from what otherwise was a very compelling story.
So, through all of this reassessment and self-reflection I gathered more confidence in my commitment to the medium of words. Then I did a bit of research how other fantasy novels established their world. This resulted in me terrestrializing Where Things Went so that I may not bind myself so strictly to these esoteric rules that cut away at huge swaths of words I desperately needed for descriptions to bring life to the world.
But wait, there’s more!
I also grappled with what structure/format I was to present the story in. Again, it can’t be said enough, I am writing a book because words are what I like and what I enjoy doing. I am impartial to the medium as I enjoy good stories in all places in all forms. Therefore every story idea I have I see in my mind first as my imagination presents it and as I craft it in my mind. This visualization is agnostic to medium. Once you settle on a book you must ask yourself, “How long are chapters supposed to be? How many chapters are there? Is each Act of the story a book in itself or must they all be in one?”
For sometime I thought I was suppose to write a series. Everyone and their mother and grandmother who writes fantasy has a series. Many people dislike a series of books for a myriad of reasons. Myself, being agnostic to format and honestly wanting to find some form of lucrative success, thought a series was the most appropriate form of delivery. I read some seriously overly long series as a kid (Eragon I’m looking at you) and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. However, there are some serious pitfalls with writing a series or beginning your author enterprise with one.
A few examples being:
What if what you wrote actually isn’t very good? Must you continue from a bad start?
If it’s good and unpopular, will you persevere regardless? Or will you leave the rest of the story untold and abandon the few committed readers?
How will you find a consistent cadence of release so as to not drag the same story on without end?
What trust could you expect as an author from a reader without the reputation of actually having completed any long story yet?
There are a whole host of other potential problems, such as being a notoriously slow writer who is just now breaking free from his underwriting tendencies. Since the 1st Act turned out to be roughly a novella in length out of a proposed 3 or 4 Acts, I think compiling everything into one big flowing fantasy book is the plan. The fears of attempting a project this large disappeared as my understanding of the genre grew. Fantasy naturally lends itself to a higher word count. Additionally, stress from so quickly needing to put something out, roll the dice, and hope for some sort of financial success went away as I seriously analyzed the business side of publishing.
I have dragged on quite long enough with my long-winded excuses so I will spare you a poor layman’s opinion on business. Suffice it to say, writing is 99% of the time not a lucrative endeavor no matter where you publish. Without something stable backing your creative efforts it really is just gambling. And it’s even more bitter because when gambling you put up your money without effort. With art you can put up your money and your effort only to miss the jackpot.
The combination of lackluster worldbuilding, self-doubt, book formatting, money, and underwriting has lead to a severely slow pace. But most of these problems have been addressed and I have an excellent vision moving forward. I am moving away from a novella series of books approach and fully embracing the thick chunky fantasy tomes readers so ardently love and hate. That isn’t to say some additional pizazz couldn’t be added to the world of Where Things Went later down the line. Importantly, it would not substantially change or progress what I present in Where Things Went in any way (think prequel or sidequel).
This coming spring will be the 10 year anniversary of my earliest conceptualizations of this story (and it isn’t even my oldest story idea). Let’s see what I can accomplish by then shall we?