Embarking on the Next Novel – Process

With the first book out of the way, I still have the nearly finished second book waiting to be finished, but on the advice of friends, I’m not going to finish it just yet. There’s little practical purpose to finishing it so long as the first book is unsold. Instead, I’m starting an entirely new novel, this one being an “Aztec West” story (same universe as “The Hearts of Men”, which is swords and six guns/historical fantasy). It will featured more resurrected Aztec gods causing mischief in 1850’s New Mexico, and and Mextli is a character in it, but not the protagonist. Instead it’s going to be told from the POV of death’s messenger, Xolotl.

My friend Janice Hardy suggests starting out the writing process of a new novel by writing a query for it. I personally hate writing queries, but having been in the query-writing mode anyway, I decided what could it hurt? And I ended up writing what I think is a pretty darn good query. I think the thing that helped most was that I really didn’t have a clear idea of the story’s events yet, but I knew the basic things that I wanted to happen and themes I wanted to explore, so it was easy to put those down without having to sift through the clutter that comes with a completed novel. I mean, I can’t put in all the extraneous crap I’m not supposed to when I don’t even yet know what all the extraneous crap is yet. When I really think about it, the query I ended up with for the last novel really stuck pretty true to what I’d originally imagined theme-wise before I started that book, before all the character re-imaginings and redrafting and insisting that the new stuff I’d added was the real core of the story when really the true core hadn’t changed at all; it’s was just a change in execution. The only difference between this new query for the unfinished book and the one I wrote for the one I’m shopping is voice, namely that I don’t know what my protag’s voice is yet, and so I’ll have to tweak it later. But that doesn’t matter because right now that query is just for me and it’s got the core of what I want to do in this story, and that will be useful when I go to write the final query to sell it.

So with query done, I decided to write an outline. I’m a really big fan of outlining novels (I occasionally also outline short stories, but not often) and this is usually step number one for me. Now, with this particular story, I’d already written a short story that got some important things in motion, another that I’d finished and tried to sell, but it didn’t stand alone and so I’d already put it aside as something I wanted to expand into a novel at some point. And then I had a third story that I’d figured out basic events for that I decided I wanted to wrap into this story too, as a kind of bridge in the middle. Of course, as I started outlining, I had a ton of characters and needed to get rid of some. There was also an issue with there being no positive female characters. So I eliminated two characters and basically plugged in what I had for the stories and now I have a basic bones to build on. I’m still not happy with the lack of sympathetic female characters but I’m formulating an idea to fix that.

But in the mean time, now I’m starting to figure out the fine details: where exactly is this taking place, and what year exactly. I have some issues with character communication to figure out, for my protag is incapable of speech–challenging, but why back off just because it’s going to be difficult and require extra creativity? I’d rather challenge myself than take the easy route and switch protags. My silent protag has more moral dilemmas to face and is in need of changing, so he’s a natural choice.

I am trying something a bit different than normal though. I’m writing it all down scene by scene, putting everything that comes to mind down on the paper, regardless of whether I’m going to use it or not. I’m doing a lot of thinking things out on paper, something I find immensely helpful when it comes to brainstorming. I’m not allowing myself to erase anything, but rather to let the hard-ass editor rationalize why this or that won’t work and why it needs to be changed. I’m also doing some supplementary research as I go (I found a fascinating website chocked full of census records and maps from New Mexico dating back to the time of the Mexican/American War. I could spend hours there.). I’m still being rather generic about events, but I’m also working out my protag’s voice, letting him describe it rather than me. I’m putting in bits and pieces about motivation as they come to me, but mostly I’m wanting to figure out before I start what the actual trail of events are, in hopes of avoiding an extra draft requiring massive cutting. The good thing too is that I’m already running into issues with my initial outline where I didn’t consider some pretty important things, like how character appearance will affect their ability to interact not only with each other, but with secondary characters. My original imagining of the middle won’t work as I’d originally planned because Mextli’s physical appearance will make it exceedingly difficult for him to interact with most people without guns being drawn. Had I not gone to this length of detail before starting, I probably would have written myself into a corner and had to back track, or I would have tried to force it work.

I’m not done with my detailed outline yet, but I should be done by the beginning of next week. And hopefully at that time, I’ll have figured out how to fix my lack of sympathetic female characters and be ready to start the actual writing phase.

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