Had a couple of fiction-writing sessions with Mary Anne today. (In the sense that we were sitting in a cafe together and both working on our respective writing projects.) In the first session, I was chagrined at the end of two hours to realize I had written a total of zero new words—but I did finally make some difficult decisions about one major character whose background had been annoyingly vague up until now, and I made a few tweaks here and there, and decided on middle and/or last names for a couple of characters (more important than it sounds, because in these cases it tied into race and ancestry issues I'd been trying to resolve), and worked out some family history.
(Mary Anne recently suggested a great exercise for working out novel-character backstory: write a short story about the character's past. I ended up not doing that in this case, though I still might (and might conceivably incorporate such a thing into the novel as flashbacks), but just thinking about it in those terms made it much easier to finally choose between multiple options.)
Then in the afternoon writing session, I finally sat down to tackle the opening, which I wrote a terrible draft of about a year and a half ago. I had been avoiding coming back and looking at it—I knew it needed a heavy rewrite, and I didn't want to get bogged down in that before I had most of the rest of the first draft of the book done—but today I focused on it. I spent a while wondering whether it was best to cut right to the magic as soon as possible, or whether I should start with a long slow opening introducing the characters and letting them hang out together, because apparently novel readers don't mind that sort of thing if it's done well.
But then I remembered the screenwriting advice to start each scene as late as possible, and I thought, Huh, I could start with them already in the attic, so I decided to give it a try; figured I could discard it and try something else if that didn't work.
But I think it worked remarkably well. I wrote a brand-new 500-word opening scene that I think lays all the groundwork I need, fairly economically, and then I threw out the two opening scenes I had had before, which were long and dull and full of clunky prose. (I had made a note to myself to “get rid of all the damn adjectives!”)
So I think the opening now works. Yay!
Now all I have to do is write maybe half a dozen more scenes in the last third of the book, and I'll be done with the first draft.
Then, of course, I have to do a major revision, dealing with political issues, strengthening character arcs, and deciding whether to cut it down to be a novella or expand it to be a novel.
About that last: in this entry I keep saying “book” and “novel,” because I'm kind of resigned to it turning into that. But I still predict that the first draft is going to be just about exactly 40,000 words. Which is a terrible length. Still not sure what to do about that. But I think expanding it some will make more sense than trying to cut it.
But before I do either of those things, gotta finish the first draft.