It’s been a week since I completed my second novel. Now that the dust has settled a little, I can look back with something other than just exhaustion. Like the first novel, this one is nowhere near publishable. Nor do I intend to do any editing towards that goal. Sometimes you have to accept that a thing is beyond salvaging. But even the worst failures can teach us a lesson, and this was far from terrible.
To get the negatives out of the way, the entire first act of Among Darker Stars dragged like nobody’s business. It was slow, plodding and had neither character nor plot development. In those first forty thousand words, I changed direction enough times to give myself whiplash. That’s the downside of not plotting things out. While I had set out several big moments for the novel, the scenes in between were pure improvisation, and suffered because of that. there was no forward momentum. Characters did nothing other than wait for something to happen.
This is the first lesson I taught myself. if something is going to be planned out, it needs to be plotted in terms of arcs, not just moments. Without the buildup, those big moments I planned fell flat, coming out of nowhere and leading to nothing. But plotting is very much the way I need to go. My first novel was wholly improvised, and was jumbled as a result. Where plotting paid off, the change was noticeable, and definitely an improvement.
The biggest single improvement though, was in the character work. While Nikita Sinclair was great in concept, the execution of Run Red The Stars left each character sounding similar. But in this work the voices are more distinct. Aspa Koh may just be the best character I have ever created. certainly she is one of the most distinctive. If there is anything I salvage from this novel, it will likely be her. The middle act, focused exclusively on her, was so much easier to write than the rest. Just goes to show how far interest can carry you, and a how a lack of it can drag you down.
Two thirds written in the first person allowed for a deeper investigation of the main character, but I found it difficult to keep the style consistent. All too often I found myself looping back to moral debates and doubts that I had dealt with only pages ago. This was also my attempt to write a more mythic story than I usually attempt, and the more elaborate prose that I began the novel with is something i simply could not maintain for more than a few paragraphs. My innate leaning toward quips and modern dialogue proved too much, and when they slipped in I found myself enjoying the work all the more.
All told though, Among Darker Stars was a success more than it was a failure. A similar length to the first novel, but completed in half the time. The dedication to craft I forced on myself – the simple act of finding time to sit and write – that is an invaluable lesson. If I can carry the same commitment to my next project, then it will all have been worth it.
And what of that next project? Well, for the time being, I have set my larger stories aside. Whatever I write next will be less epic in scope, less concerned with the fates of millions. In all honesty, I don’t think I have the skill as a writer to pull that off. Not yet. I have ideas, of course, for something on a smaller scale. Something that will focus more on characters. It will likely be just as unpublishable as its predecessors, but I’m sure it will teach me. that it will help me along that long road.
I’ll get there someday.