As of this weekend, I have finished my fourth novel. And it is not a good one. A Tally of My Sins was an expansion of ideas that have been with me for years now, dealing with the nature of civilisation, the way in which history is always being rewritten, and the conflict between individual and society. It also had a robot protagonist, my fist character to use gender neutral pronouns, and was a spy thriller at its heart. That was a lot to tuck into seventy-seven thousand words, and I wasn’t able to do it. Put simply, I bit off far more than I could chew.

It was a learning experience, and one that I have taken a lot of lessons away from. Firstly, that I really do need to narrow my scope a little. Get a handle on smaller scale conflicts before I tackle these Big Ideas. I know I’m going to keep returning to them, but I’m not good enough to do it just yet. There too many disparate elements here, too many plotlines going on, and i couldn’t do justice to them all.

As a framing narrative in ATOMS, I had an academic essay dealing with morality. these were some of my favourite parts to write, but having to swing between academic and prose writing in every chapter meant that my prose writing took on the same dry, verbose qualities that I have been trying to shake of since university. It was easy to slip back into academic habits, but hard to fight my way back to fiction once I was there.

In terms of character work, some went better than others. As always, I greatly enjoyed writing dialogue, and the banter between protagonists felt really good. But the internal characterisation was sorely lacking. Even where I should have had moral complexity, everything seemed a little too static. I’m not entirely sure where I went wrong, I only know that I did.

This leads to the biggest problem, which I only realised looking back over the whole thing. With three protagonists, only five characters had names. There was no sense of depth to the world around them, only a weird feeling that each character existed in their own unique bubble that the other viewpoint characters occassionally visited. The near total lack of social interaction with side characters crippled the book early on, and left the entire novel feeling horribly flat and, I admit it, uninteresting. This flatness is the biggest weakness, and the one I need to work on the best.

It’s not all bad, however. The fight scenes in this book are some of the best I’ve written. Straying away from shoot-outs in favour of brawls gives a new sense of dynamism to my characters. It’s far easier to build characters when you’re up close and personal when things get rough. I’m not saying violence is always needed, but in this case it was certainly useful.

Moving on, I’m going straight on to the next project. I’m thinking something on a smaller scale, and maybe even a little more optimistic than my usual fare. After all, with my two previous protagonists having lost hands in their adventures, maybe it’s time to give grievous injuries a rest . . .

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