Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the Beginning

A few of you have heard or read my descriptions of the inspiration of my current work in progress, which is set "in part" in Antarctica. For those who don't know, the idea came from a press release that crossed my desk. I read about a strange salt deposit that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. From what they've learned there, scientists and researchers are exploring all sorts of things such as whether the existence of life in that environment might suggest how life might exist in extreme cold on other planets and moons.

At least so far, my story doesn't explore the questions of life on other planets. Rather, it explores whether there might be love for one scientist in particular. Or is she locked in a cold, barren wasteland in which an occasional, potentially devastating warm wind blows? I've never been a love story writer, so in some ways this is uncharted territory for me, too.

Still, when I first saw that press release lo these many years ago, I had an almost immediate image of characters and how the novel would start. But this past weekend, in between cooking scrambled eggs and driving to Home Depot, I pondered a change. What if the story doesn't begin where I thought it did? Or, another way of looking at it: Why do I start a novel that I always describe as "taking place in Antarctica" on a road in California, where the scene culminates in a fatal car accident? Why does a reader care? And at 40,000 words written, is it too late to change?

A fellow writer who helped me think about my previous novel called on Friday. He writes science fiction — a genre I like very much though I've not written much of it lately — and we chatted about our current WIPs. He remarked about how our pieces had one fundamental similarity: world building. That phrase and all it implies lingered with me even as I worked on the novel as I had before we spoke.

Recently, I returned to some research notes and rediscovered the incredible variety in the landscape surrounding my setting in Antarctica. And I realized my friend was right: readers need to know what this place looks like. Of course, I don't want to load my first pages up with icebergs of backstory, but I've begun rewriting my opening chapter — and probably several early chapters will need to be changed.

What I've written previously remains viable. After all, those people must die. But I think I've made a significant shift. I hope it will be a fruitful change. If nothing else, I will get to use more of what I've learned researching Antarctica. California simply is nowhere near as fascinating to me.

How about you? Have you realized in the midst of writing a novel that you've got some fundamental flaws? What did you do about it?


Caroline Hagood said...

The thoughts I had while reading your post in the order that they came:

I think the love story is uncharted territory for all of us somehow.

Somehow it makes sense that your epiphany would come sandwiched between scrambled eggs and Home Depot.

When it comes to world building, it's never too late to start anew.

In answer to your question, I wrote a whole novel that I abhor, so, yes. What did I do about it? For now, I use it as a footrest, but I resolve to figure that sh!t out one of these days.

Lisa_Gibson said...

Interesting post. I love the picture with it. Similar to the one I've used for my Script Frenzy poster.
I wrote my entire Middle-grade novel and the consenus from a couple of agents and several others is to re-do it into a series of chapter books.
While I think that's a great idea, I just haven't mustered up the oomph to do it. So, it's marinating until after Script Frenzy (at least) and then I'm determined to return to it. :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, both of you, for your comments!

Lisa, at least you got positive feedback from agents. That's great! The thing that kills me about my first "completed" novel is that I have tens of thousands of words that I intend to turn into a couple short stories. I'm a big believer in not throwing any writing out. Still, I collect way too much crap.

Caroline, even unpublished novels have a purpose. If not as a footrest, perhaps as a guidepost to mark off the danger zones you've trod upon before. I have no doubt you'll get one ready that you love.

As for uncharted areas ... yeah, there's a lot of truth to that.

Jemi Fraser said...

I feel your pain, your fear and your intrigue with the new plan. In my last ms, I realized after finishing it and with some helpful pointers from the folks at AQ & AQCrew that the beginning wasn't the beginning. I ended up rewriting and reorganizing the first half of the book & changing the timeline. I think it's better now - but I'm letting it marinate a while longer :)

You've sure got an intriguing concept going on there - and emotions are emotions - I bet you nail the love story angle!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jemi. I'm enjoying the adventure. And as of tonight, I've topped 42,000 words, including this new beginning that I'm still working on.

Brian James said...

I'm actually in the middle of working on the second draft of my next novel and find myself changing so many of the scenes. Not the core of their meaning, but where they take place and what the characters are doing in them.

I've always loved how much clearer those circumstances come after living the story through a few times.

Good luck

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Brian. You make an excellent point. I think a lot of new and aspiring writers don't realize how much writing gets done during the revisions.

After reading my first one a dozen or so times -- and having revised sections many more times -- I found it difficult to remember what got cut and what remained.

Keep at it and good luck!

Matt Sinclair said...

Wow, Brian. I just explored your blog. You've got quite a wonderful collection of published works already! Thanks for following my little blog, and I'll have to see what you've written that might appeal to my little girls.

Matt Sinclair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Sinclair said...

For those who are interested, Brian's blog is at http://brianjamestheauthor.blogspot.com/

Love the art!

Brian James said...

Agreed, my aspiring writers consider a second draft as a time to fix grammar and spelling (if they even consider a second draft). I see this a lot especially with young writers. Not to fault them, I was the same way.

These days, yes, a large bulk of the writing is done in that stage. I think of it as dressing a skeleton.

Matt Sinclair said...

An appropriate image. I've found myself fixing broken bones during that stage.

Anonymous said...


It is almost a relief to have a new starting point. I have reworked some serious changes in some of my mss and that's okay. It's all about honing the craft and getting the best story on paper. Not necessarily the original story.

You'll do fine--somewhere between baked beans and the landfill I'm sure.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I'm not doing world-building but I find myself taking too many side trips to describe the place and time.

Some of them I cut right away when I revise as I go. I know there will be others when I edit at the end.

I wonder if they aren't necessary to our own heads as we write, though.

Matt Sinclair said...

Cat, I agree. But I was still a little surprised. For years, I'd thought it was a great beginning. But it simply is a crucial scene; it was a beginning of the vision, not the story.

Terry, you're right. The sidetrips are necessary but with the price of gas these days (i.e., time, mental energy, stress) it can be pretty frustrating all the same.

Thanks again for your comments!