The Never-Ending Story

Mark Twain once said, “Stopping smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

Me, I’ve only stopped writing fiction a few dozen times. Done. Finished. No ideas worth writing. Time to play a lot of music and maybe do a little yard work.

The story of the Leafstone Shield (yes, those four book covers up at the top of the blog) first tumbled into my brain in 2004. It was a long novel, rather tongue-in-cheek, and at first I thought it was pretty darn good, but I soon realized it wasn’t.

I set it aside. Did a little brainstorming on it in 2007 and a little more in 2012. In 2015 I picked it up again and started over from scratch. The version you can buy today on Amazon has maybe half a dozen paragraphs from the original version; the rest is entirely new. I removed characters, added new ones, filled in the back-story, made it a lot more serious (though there are still some comic bits), and worked out a host of technical details that I had neglected.

It’s no longer a single 185,000-word novel. It’s now a four-volume epic of about half a million words. I did the interior layout and design, hired a cover artist, and uploaded it all to Amazon KDP. Finally, it was done. I could move on.

Since then I resuscitated and published a historical mystery (While Caesar Sang of Hercules) that I had written in 2001 and then set aside, finished a new fantasy mystery (Woven of Death and Starlight), republished my out-of-print second novel (The Wall at the Edge of the World), and put together a collection of my short stories and novellas (The House of Broken Dolls). I’ve also poked and prodded at two or three ideas for new novels, couldn’t figure out how to make any of them work, and gave up writing entirely (again).

Last night, goaded by some obscure impulse, I opened up the final volume of the Leafstone story and re-read the scene in which the ultimate bad guy is finally killed. It’s a brief scene, no more than 90 seconds if it were filmed, and three or four major characters are vitally involved. I quickly saw that it needed to be at least twice as long. I had missed a lot of the dramatic and emotional potential.

Could that be the only scene in the story that needed to be massaged? Might there be another twenty? Another fifty?

Oh, dear. As saith the poet, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” I always thought that was a line from Yeats, but no, it’s the title of a short story by Delmore Schwartz, whom I’ve never even heard of.

Should I rewrite The Leafstone Shield yet again? Redo the interior layout, carefully retaining the same total page count so as not to need new cover art, and upload a new version?

Somewhere along the way I hired a developmental editor. Paid her a lot of money. One of her major points was that I needed to show more of the characters’ feelings. I noticed, however, that she only said that about the female characters, never about the men. So I did add some bits, but I didn’t take those comments too seriously.

Now, looking at that big fight scene, I’m thinking yeah, she was right.

Here’s the trick, though. Writers these days are often advised to use only one viewpoint character in a given scene. If you need to switch to a different viewpoint, we’re told, leave a blank line in the manuscript and start a new passage from the new point of view.

In general, this is good advice. The idea is that the reader will be more immersed in — more gripped by — the story if he or she is riding along behind the eyeballs of a single character, seeing and thinking and feeling whatever that character is experiencing. If the writer switches in mid-scene to a new point of view, the reader is momentarily yanked out of the scene. It’s disorienting. Immersion is good, so switching POV in mid-scene is bad. It’s called head-hopping.

But in a single, seamless 90-second action scene with four important characters, all of whom are feeling rage, fear, contempt, and sparks of courage, leaving a blank space in order to switch to a new viewpoint character would be a hideous interruption of the action. Worse than head-hopping, much worse. To show everyone’s total gut-level involvement in the action while keeping the action seamless, I will have to hop, hop, hop from head to head to head.

And if I’m going to do that, why limit myself with respect to other techniques? Nobody is ever going to read the damn thing anyway. Why not write it the way it needs to be written?

There are already three head-hopping scenes in the story, all of them carefully controlled. There’s also an authorial intrusion in Book 1. There used to be a whole chapter in first person (the rest of the book being solidly in third person), but I deleted it because it didn’t advance the plot. Still, that minor character’s voice is charming, and there’s a meta-fictional reason for having him pop up as a narrator. I’ll bet I still have that chapter in one of my archive files. Should I restore it?

The elf character fades out. He’s important in Book 1 but barely visible in Book 4. Could that be improved? What about Roma’s romance? Might her girlfriend have a role to play that I haven’t yet imagined? Then there’s the abrupt reappearance of Ghirn Hyttop near the end. I think I ought to prepare that by adding an earlier scene.

And what about a sequel? I have some notes for a possible sequel. There’s also a prequel I’ve never written, a free-standing novel about some things that happened a few hundred years before.

Have I really given up writing fiction? (Insert mumbling noises here.)

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2 Responses to The Never-Ending Story

  1. The internet revolution has spawned multitude of outlets for creatives There’s a huge market of online publishing you haven’t tapped into. Since you are already distinguished, you will be able to corner a good chunk of the market easily. However, you don’t. Why? What’s wrong with Wattpad, Inkitt, Scribblehub, Webnovel and others web platforms?

    • midiguru says:

      That’s a fair question, and I’ll give you an honest answer. For reasons buried in the distant past, I get triggered by rejection. I find it wrenching and demoralizing to try to market my work and get turned down, and if you’re going to go into marketing and promotion you have to be prepared emotionally for a lot of rejection. People who have a different emotional reaction — a “can do” attitude, let’s call it — can succeed in self-marketing. I can’t even get out of the starting gate.

      I’ve done the things I can do. I have a very nice website (jimaikin.net) for which I paid money. I did more than two dozen queries to literary agents on “Woven of Death and Starlight,” without getting even a single nibble. Not one agent responded, “Sounds interesting. Send me the whole manuscript.” I have an active blog.

      That’s the short answer. I could go on, but I trust you get the idea. Like the rest of the human race, I’m very good at some things, and not even remotely good at others. (I couldn’t repair a car either.) It’s no good telling me I ought to stiffen my spine and self-promote. That’s no different from telling me I ought to be a different person.

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