It’s been hard getting back into SPECTRAL IRON – the beginning of the story is a smoothly progressing freight train, but about a third of the way through, the story went off the tracks — not because there was anything wrong with the ideas, but because they lacked the right organization. I had to move many, many chapters around before I got the overall structure right.
Then, I found that I’d done “tricks” to speed up the narrative—scene changes, description, shifts of scale—which work great when a story is complete, but in early drafts just distract from creating what John Gardner called “the vivid continuous dream” of fiction. National Novel Writing Month material, for me, must be like that dream, continuously moving forward from point to point.
Often, if I was willing to just “dethrone my darlings” I could make progress. The old writer’s advice to “kill your darlings” is something I have a love-hate relationship with, but in this case, I interpret “darlings” as a great turn of phrase that started a scene or chapter in the early draft—but which I found were getting in the way.
Usually, when I couldn’t go forward from the next unwritten part of the scene, it was because the darling, while it sounded cool, glossed over too much. To fix the problem, I generally didn’t have to delete the darling; I just instead demoted it from its privileged status of starting a scene, rolled my mind back to the point just before the scene break, and asked: no, seriously: what would really happen next?
Thinking very closely about how characters would react to a life-changing event, in the next hours or minutes or even seconds after it happened, is something that produced (for me) more real, honest, and compelling reactions—and, usually, created a far more solid framework for all the scenes that followed, enabling me to think about them clearly and write more quickly.
This strategy has been working well for me, and today it really has started to pay off. I’m getting back on track at last.
Oh, yes, an excerpt:
“No,” Nyissa said, delicately picking up one of the gumdrops with her chopsticks. She gingerly put it in her mouth, sliding it past her fangs with the white ivory prongs, closing her mouth—then her eyes closed in bliss. “Ahhh. You’ve cultivated a different set of skills.”
“Beauty is a skill?” I asked.
“Dakota,” Nyissa said, smiling at me mirthfully. “You are beautiful, but you’re not trying to be beautiful: you’re trying to be a butch badass biker. You wear leather, and a Mohawk, and actually ride a bike, even a fuel efficient one. Your whole outfit says: don’t mess.”
“It’s supposed to say, check out my tattoos,” I said.
“It does say that,” she said, though today my arms were covered with the sleeves of a turtleneck. “But hairstyles and transport are more serious choices than a coat. You’ve cultivated a whole set of lifestyle skills to project a butch image, down to your manly handshake.”
Now I covered my face with my hand. “Ah, I’ll never live that down.”
“I, on the other hand, am a vampire dominatrix,” Nyissa said. “I lure men and women to my bed with my beauty and the promise of a mixture of pleasure and pain. That, too, is a set of lifestyle choices—down to my quite extensive wardrobe, and the shopping that goes with it.”
“Your success at that,” I said, “has a lot to do with your physical beauty.”
“Yes, but, you don’t need a great body to look hot,” Nyissa insisted. “It’s all about your sense of style. You need to project the aura that you’re fuckable. Not dressing in a way that asks or offers sex—but how you show off your body shows you know what sex is, and how to do it.”
I was staring at her. My jaw was dropped. Nyissa slowly raised her chopsticks, taking them in her mouth with a sly smile. She cleaned them between her fangs with a lick of her tongue. Then she leaned forward and touched them beneath my chin, closing my mouth.
It occurs to me that the art of finding an excerpt which is interesting, yet reveals no plot points, is itself a skill. Hopefully I’m doing it well.