Penitents Progress Report

This is an expansion of the latest (today) journal entry for Penitents. It’s coming along, even though I still have no idea whether I’ll actually write it. Or anything else.

The notes and questions are accumulating, and I’ve even scribbled some text fragments. I have a much better idea of my central character, some secondary characters, a sense of where this story might go.

The character—Grayson— is still central, but I haven’t had much of a sense of what his world is like—until just now. It’s the same world that Camp Expendable is set in. Maybe even the same as A Well-Educated Boy. Though Well-Ed is probably set somewhat earlier, before the country is in near-total collapse.

So it might be interesting to find ways in which to link the stories, showing that they’re all outcomes of an ongoing process of social, economic, and environmental fragmentation and decay. Part of that would be setting actual dates for the action of each story so that (assuming I write them all–hah hah) they can be read in chronological order. Maybe giving characters from one story small roles in another, though that’s probably too much of a stretch.

Still a major concern is my reluctance to start a large project. If I’m going to write it at all, I want to keep it to novella length, and that’s looking less and less possible. Each new character adds complications and length if they’re to be more than cardboard cutouts.

Here’s a bit that’s more or less the way I want it. Grayson is trying to explain to Lydia why he wants to do a one-week guest retreat with the brotherhood.

“What have you ever done that you need to do penance for? You’re just an ordinary person, like the rest of us. You’re not doing any of the horrible things that messed up the world.”

He opened his mouth to answer and knew that if he didn’t pay attention, he would stumble over his tongue as he usually did when Lydia put him on the spot. It was too much: get the words out properly and make sure they’re words that say what he meant to say. “It isn’t me, Lydia.” He stopped. Not him. That would make it even crazier in her eyes, wouldn’t it? “Okay, it is, a little bit, just because I’m living — eating, eliminating, using up resources…”

“So am I,” she broke in. “So I’m guilty too? Do you want me to share your poverty to make up for… Oh, I don’t know. Whatever.” She waved her hands in angry frustration.

“It’s a brotherhood. They don’t take women.” The second the last word was out of his mouth, he knew it was absolutely the wrong thing to say. He’d jumped off the track–again.

“I don’t care about that! It isn’t the point, Gray.” She sprang up from the couch, banging her shin on the coffee table. “Do whatever you want. I’m not going to argue with you about it. If we’re lucky, you’ll realize it’s just another one of your obsessions and it will burn out by the time you get back. So go! Sleep on the ground naked and eat grass, or whatever it is they do to demonstrate how we should all be living to make up for… for being alive, for heaven’s sake!”


3 thoughts on “Penitents Progress Report

  1. Excellent piece. But I can see how it will expand. I aimed for one book of a normal size – and plotted my way into a half-million word epic that I’m not quite half through. So much story!

    Just keep every single piece you add relevant to your central storyline – a simple yes/no to “Does this belong in THIS story for SURE?” may help. Meanwhile, you store those other ideas in a file so your brain knows you will treat its suggestions with respect.

    I can’t tell you how much of my stuff gets the ax, ultimately! Only the relevant and the best survives. If the main story ever sells, boy, do I have mountains of debris to mine for possible other stories.

    From Wikipedia: “Tailings, also called mine dumps, culm dumps, slimes, tails, refuse, leach residue or slickens, terra-cone (terrikon), are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction (gangue) of an ore.” Tailings. That’s what I have. Lots of tailings.

    1. I’d never have thought of considering my victims of axe-fall “tailings,” but it certainly fits. At least it eliminates the image of blood dripping from my computer. I have a little fragment that was intended to be the opening of the story, but out of the original 244 words, only 38 survive so far. Chop, chop.

      1. If you write a bunch of good words, you get to choose which are the best ones. I like that. Lately, I also listen to my computer read my choices, and I get cadence – the robot voice tells me how the commas are working. I like that. Missing syllables can make you brain skip oddly through prose passages. sometimes I pick a word just because of that.

        There are SO many pleasures to writing, and many of them are purely modern.

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