|Eventually, there will be first chapters I
have written (of books I will never complete) here.
But there are none here yet. Soon, I hope!
|A little background on
Actually, a shitload of background on Chapter One:
(This isn't required reading or anything.)
When I was 19, I sat down one day with a pen and a spiral notebook, and started writing a short story. It was a joke, really, a goof, about me and two friends of mine getting sucked into this fantasy world of swords and sorcery. It was silly. Your basic fish-out-of-water, "What ho! Such odd trappings you three wanderers are outfitted with!" sort of thing. Might have made a good Martin Lawrence treatment.
The first day, I wrote for maybe an hour, finishing about three or four pages. The next day, I wrote for about two hours, and got through about five or six more.
Then, the following night, I sat down at about 11pm, and started writing. I stayed hunched over that notebook, scribbling furiously, until about 7:00am the next morning. I hadn't eaten or slept, I could barely move my hand, and I had completed about forty or so pages. I was a little startled to see the sun coming up. In fact, I was a little startled, period.
Over the next year, I would work on this story nearly every single day. After filling three notebooks, I switched over to my Apple IIc computer (ahh, memories) and started from the beginning again. After a year, what started as a short story had grown to a forty-chapter novel of nearly 500 single-spaced pages.
And man, it was so much fun. It was such an interesting time for me. I was always writing or thinking about writing. I worked evenings in a kitchen, making pizza and chicken wings and washing dishes, always in a haze, barely able to wait until I got home so I could write some more. The process, to me, was thrilling. I won't say the book wrote itself, because I hate that cliché, and because it didn't. I knew exactly where the story was going and exactly what would happen. (The entire plot had come to me in a rush shortly after I started, such a rush that I had to grab a pen and write down the major plot points. I wouldn't call it an outline, more of a list: "This happens, then this happens, then they go here, then they meet this guy, then this happens, then this dude gets killed, then they find this," etc.)
Still, most of the smaller details would come out while I was actually writing. Little bits of dialogue, random details, smaller events... they would just kind of pop out as I was racing along. This was fun and surprising, as was the entire experience of writing the book. I had never done any writing other than schoolwork, and I don't recall having had any desire to write for enjoyment in the past.
Another neat little bit was how things kind of came together. Something mentioned or referred to casually in chapter three would suddenly surface in chapter thirty-three. An item someone picked up in the beginning of the book for no real reason would come play a part later on. In one of the last chapters, I had a few characters in a city, and I needed to get them to another city as fast as possible. I decided it was easy enough, I'd just add a river connecting the two cities on the map I had drawn when I started the book. I figured they could take a boat. When I picked up the map and looked, there was already a river, exactly where I needed it. These were nothing more than little coincidences but it was fun to imagine that book was as interested in being finished as I was in finishing it.
And I did. I finished it. I remember I had the day off that day, and I knew I was down to the last few pages. I typed my way through them, and then, bam, I was done. I had written a book. I had actually fucking written a book. How amazing it seemed.
It was the first real sense of accomplishment I'd ever felt, and I know it was real because I didn't feel a need to announce it to anybody. It was enough that I knew. I had written a book. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. It had characters who did and said things. It had a plot, and events, and climaxes and end-of-chapter cliffhangers and everything a real book has. I had written it with no prompting from anyone but myself. And I had loved it. I had truly loved writing it.
The book, I should mention at this point, was utter crap. Sure, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they all sucked. Especially the beginning. It had characters, mainly two-dimensional ones, all very similar to each other. The things they said were predictable and the way they said them was not particularly interesting. The plot, the rough plot, anyway, was (and is) basically okay, I guess. When it gets into specifics it's pretty terrible, however. The medieval warfare was laughable. Here you have a major land war, a city siege, a castle siege, and even a naval battle, not to mention oodles of hand-to-hand combat, all written by a nineteen year-old who had only the barest of idea of how such things are fought and executed. Crap, like I said.
Of course, I didn't think it was crap then, I thought it was the greatest goddamn adventure ever written. So, as one would do with the greatest goddamn adventure ever written, I sat down and read it. Then I put it on a shelf. And left it there.
About a year later, I started rewriting it. I rewrote the first ten chapters, then put it down. Another year passed, and I rewrote the last ten chapters, in the process nixing a couple characters and ensuring I would have to go and rewrite the first ten chapters again. A year later, I started all over again, with a different approach, changing the beginning entirely. I got through about the first ten chapters, decided I didn't like it, and re-wrote the first four before setting it aside again. This went on. I never again made it through a full draft.
Although I still enjoyed writing it a great deal, and was improving it with each rewrite, part of the problem was that over the months when I wasn't writing, my perspectives would change and my ideas for what the book should be were altered. One year I'd want it to be a light, fun, comical fantasy adventure, another year, a dark and violent epic. I couldn't get through a draft without changing my mind in some way, so by the time I'd finish a section, it would be time to go back and re-write the last section to match it.
What's worse, I started thinking about sequels. The sequels, naturally, were a lot more interesting to plot and plan. I even wrote the first two chapters of the second book, before realizing that a second book was pointless unless I fixed the first one and got it published. So, I went back and started over with the first one, editing, revising, changing, and finding myself no happier with it. Eventually, I put it down altogether.
Now, it's sitting on a shelf in my closet, a big bundle of yellowing pages in varying degrees of re-write. About fifteen diskettes with different drafts of different chapters, none of which really fit together. (The re-writes did make it better, mostly. I still think it's crap and that it has a lot of problems, but it's better than the first draft.) I haven't touched it or worked on it in probably four or five years. But it's still there, and I still think about it, and think about getting back to it, although I can't imagine how I'd find the time or the energy. In general, I've lost interest in fiction, especially reading fiction and certainly in writing it. But every so often, something will put it back in my mind.
Recently, for instance, I was watching The Princess Bride on DVD, with an audio commentary track by William Goldman, the author and screenwriter. (If you haven't seen Princess Bride (and Jesus, what the hell are you waiting for?) the following three paragraphs contain a spoiler.)
On the commentary track, Goldman was sharing anecdotes about the production of the film and talking about writing the novel. He spoke of how he'd written himself into a corner when Westley was in the Machine, the torture device in the Pit of Despair (or Zoo of Death, as it was in the novel). For a while, Goldman didn't know how he was going to get Westley out of that particular jam, until he realized that Westley wasn't going to get out of it. Westley wasn't going to be rescued. Westley was going to die. Goldman says:
"...I remember I wrote the words 'Westley lay dead by the Machine'... and I just stared at them, I couldn't believe I had done it. And, I... this is something that has only happened once in over forty-five years of storytelling, I burst into totally unexpected hysterical tears. Over what I'd done... I didn't know what I'd done, but I knew I had touched myself terribly in this book."
Now, I never burst into tears while writing my book, and I never had a sudden realization that a character was going to die (I knew from the beginning who lived and died). And my book didn't have a particularly profound impact on me, apart from the realization that I loved to write (which, I guess, was kinda profound in its own way). But what Goldman said just brought back the memories of how I felt writing my book, and that I did feel something. I cared about my characters. Even my crappy predictable two-dimensional characters, I had feelings for them. They brought up emotions in me. Not overwhelming emotions, but, you know... I liked them. I was fond of them, I guess. And I'm not one of those "My characters are my friends, and each time I sit down to write it's like visiting them!" type of writers, honestly. Really! I swear! But I did like my characters. And I realize I miss that part of writing a great deal.
I'm not saying I don't enjoy writing things for this site, I do. It's just different. I get very happy when something happens to me at a job and I know I can turn it into an essay or an update. I like when things I write turn out well, or when I surprise myself with something. I like that it's gotten me into the habit of writing almost every day again, because that's important to do. For the most part, it is fun.
Still, there's the feeling that it's become a little routine. Sometimes, it feels like a chore I have to do between coming home from work and going to bed. Often, it feels like work (especially when I've had a completely uneventful day). Most of all, though, as I realized when I listened to Goldman talk about Princess Bride, it's lacking in something. There's no emotion in it. Which is fine, I mean, it's mainly supposed to be light, uncomplicated humor. I'm not expecting to feel any sort of emotion when I write about squeaky office chairs and the like.
I'm also not saying I want to write deep, meaningful fiction, necessarily. No matter what version of my book I was working on, it was never deep or meaningful. It was never written from the heart, or the soul. It was never art, it was never my craft, it was never anything I suffered over, or poured my emotions into. I don't write that sort of way, I am not capable of writing that sort of way, and I don't have any particular interest in doing so.
But there was something there, something that made me happy in a way that writing humor for the site doesn't. If I didn't pour emotion into my fiction, then I think at least I got some emotion out of it. There was a certain excitement to it, a certain sense of adventure, and a kind of boundlessness to it. I didn't have to get to the point, or watch the word count, or worry about tangents. Well. I did eventually. But not within the hour. I could just sit there and write. Best of all, I think, I didn't have to finish anything. I didn't have to wrap anything up. I'd write until I was tired, then stop. I didn't have to finish a chapter before I quit, or even the paragraph I was working on. I'd just stop, and pick it up the next day. With the stuff for the site, I sit down, start it, finish it, edit it, and upload it, all in the same evening. Nothing really continues on. There's no thread to return to.
Basically, I guess I'm missing the freedom in just sitting down and writing. Doesn't matter if I've had a long boring day where nothing notable has happened. It's fiction. I can make shit up! I can have an interesting conversation that never took place. I can create people and places and things. I can, if need be, draw a river on a map.
And I don't have to tie everything together in the last sentence.