I’m often frustrated when I start working on a story and run out of steam before I can finish it. I look at the long list of WIPs and wonder if I’m doomed to be the world champion non-finisher. But I’m slowly adjusting to the idea that not going from start to finish in one long leap can be a good thing. The little vacation I’m taking from The Warden (again) isn’t going to waste. Just the opposite.
I started The Scribe — oh, my god! — exactly two years ago next week. I had no idea I’ve been poking at it so long. The story presented me with two problems. It’s an “autobiography” of an ex-slave whose training was brutal by any civilized standards. So I had to decide how much detail was enough to convey what he went through, without crossing the line where such material is often nothing more than a way to titillate readers. The second problem was point of view. The first half of the story was his life as a slave. No problem there because it’s all from his point of view. But the second half brings in two people who are important to him when he becomes free and starts a new life.
I wanted to open up the story to other points of view and get away from pure exposition. The plan was to alternate between the characters: Shand, the ex-slave, and the two women who enter his life, Rima and Lilian. Each segment would be first person POV. But I wanted to bring in material that would require an omniscient narrator, so I set those up as “scenes.” And that’s where I got stuck. Because an omniscient narrator just didn’t work. What to do? What to do? So I did the only possible thing. I set it aside and went to work on other pieces.
But I’m back at it, and realizing (again) just how much learning can happen over two years. This story is going to suffer from an omniscient narrator. Get rid of it! It’s ridiculously easy (ignoring how fussy it is to do) to convert all the omniscient scenes to first person. So the omniscient busybody is disappearing, chapter by chapter. Good riddance.
Even better, as I convert scenes to first person, I’m getting back into the protagonists’ feelings and realizing that, like so much of my early work, this was a weak area. Exposition comes easily to me; the description of emotions . . . Let’s not get into that. It’s still a sore point and one that I have to work at, consciously. But I’m improving.
So, The Scribe, which is no longer The Scribe, but A Perfect Slave, or maybe The Story of a Perfect Slave, will be a much better book than it would have been if I’d finished it even a year ago. As a counterpoint to all those well-meaning people who advise throwing away your early efforts rather than waste time trying to make them better, I say, don’t throw them away before taking a good look at them first. If it’s a crappy idea, yes, trash it. If it’s a good idea, but you weren’t a good enough writer to do it justice back then, look at it with new eyes. This might finally be the right time.