I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

I should probably talk a little about the book release (both in practical terms and my response to finally seeing my name on a book cover), but I wanted to stay with the process of creating the book and story for a bit more, talking about a scene that remained ill-conceived through every draft—right up until the line edit.

Extraordinarily minor spoilers to follow.

In its original conception (and the first full length manuscript I wrote years ago), Nathan Beck wasn’t a character of significance through the whole story. He was an antagonist in the early chapters who dropped away as soon as the action left Chicago. Writing the manuscript that became the finished book, I decided that I liked the dynamic of Nathan pursuing the action independently.

The first hurdle to clear was what role Nathan Beck fulfills in the story. That took care of itself in short order; as the character spearheading the chase of Aaron Collins, it made sense for Nathan to uncover Aaron’s secret. So in my head a scene took shape where Nathan explained his theory and why he had it; this scene always took place, for better or worse, with Nathan talking to the novel equivalent of a bit part—a character we’d never seen before and never would again.

As the book developed, though, I disliked Nathan’s solitude while he pursued Aaron; there was no one for Nathan to play off of. Enter Jake Green. Jake hadn’t existed in any version of this story at any point, and in that way is unique among the characters. Everyone else of consequence had always existed in some. Ultimately Jake’s inclusion opened the window a little wider into Nathan’s character; his presence also made the book’s climax easier to achieve.

So that’s the setup. Now we have the opening scene of chapter 19, and in the original (and almost every subsequent) draft, Nathan is explaining his theory to a disposable character while Jake is—I kid you not—sleeping. I’ve introduced a new character halfway through the book, we hardly know him, he’s going to be with us through the end…and he’s sleeping in his second appearance. But in my head I’d always seen this scene one way, and that’s how I wrote it. With Jake as a never-conceived late addition, I didn’t know what to do with him. So I ignored him.

I don’t know what the trigger was, but as I read through the manuscript one last time before the line edit, the Jake Green more or less slapped me upside the head and said, “Hey stupid—Nathan should be explaining all this to me. I’m a close friend, drafted into this dubious adventure I don’t understand…and the readers have almost no idea who I am.”

And of course Jake was completely correct. I rewrote the scene (astonishingly with a word count that deviated by only two or three). I’m still amazed that I held to the original scene through so many drafts.

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