And my typewriter bled

“By the time I’m nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”  – Roald Dahl

Phew! How time rushes by, from contemplation to implementation and the dark, taffy well of sublime inspiration, with tree trunk thoughts that grow in every direction.

It seems we get lost in the doing, the tactile luxury of feeling, being in the intoxicating presence of creation and what every moment reveals.

One moment you have creative inspiration then impetus dissolves, a seemingly ambiguous path leads to revelation and you emerge hours, sometimes days and months later, exhausted but burning with the fires of expectation.

So, you may or may not have been wondering where I disappeared to? I wasn’t stuck in a dingy bunker far below the city above and I wasn’t secreted away by a band of multi-tentacled aliens and subjected to invasive probing.

The truth is, I’ve been so wrapped up in 2nd Dark Age that it has been hard to tear myself away. One of the reasons I started writing the blog was to document my experience with the graphic novel and other projects and to share my personal journey with people who have a similar interest.

For the past few months, I’ve been writing extensively, just letting the words flow freely. My daily word count rose dramatically and I was feeling extremely smug. This was a synch, I thought and hurtled forth through the story, to hell with the consequences.

And then on a day, when there was a lull in my momentum, I took a step back to admire my work, objectively. I was crestfallen. I thought it was dreadful. I had forgotten all my own rules. 

My writing was sentimental and elaborate resulting in pages of pretty prose that had no definite purpose and really contributed little to the primary soul of the original story. Its flavour had shifted from dystopian to myopic and quite honestly it was insipid. A dystopian world is not an attractive one and I had been waxing lyrically about its landscapes instead of keeping it real. The world I was describing was starting to sound utopian!

It felt as if my heroes and protagonists were being hauled through the story by their earlobes. They were not nearly proactive enough and their goals and motivations were vague. This I can contribute in part to the fact that I hadn’t stayed true to their individual backstories or pre-histories. The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual can’t be remoulded to suit each new situation. It’s not always a good idea to wing it or let things grow organically.

One of my main protagonists who is pivotal to the story, Gamez, came across as just another bad guy, with no real depth and not quite bad enough to force the antagonists to reach their full potential. If a character’s actions are to serve as a catalyst for events that follow, he better apply more shove then push.

I had been playing favourites with the characters I liked most. It was obvious I was coddling Pull Fastbladder. This didn’t play in his favour, I was beginning to make him boring. We root for our heroes because we can identify with them or aspire to be like them. A saint is not accessible and so we lose interest. It’s only human. Falling in love with the “idea” of something and not relinquishing it when it is obvious that it detracts from the work as a whole could be fatal. These ideas are not wasted, sometimes it is best to bin them, perhaps use them in a future endeavour.

I had been dragging parts of the plot and it felt really static, and when collaborator and artist Daniel tried to match his panels to my narrative, he was driven to distraction. (“No,” he corrects, “I was bloody furious”).  So it was out the window with all the unnecessary embellishments, stripping the narrative down to its essential essence, thus accelerating the pace and saving the poor readers from falling asleep mid-page.

It is also difficult not to skip to the “pudding”/“dessert”, the parts of the story I feel really attracted to, ignoring the bridge work necessary to take you from point A to point B. It is all good and well to become so enthralled with Tankertown that I go into great detail describing every whirring cog and clicking gear and forget about the mechanics of what events run concurrently with that particular aspect of the story. The result? A flabby plot which coils instead of arcing.

Writing for the sake of writing is not necessarily a bad thing, it gets those creative juices flowing. However, when you have a specific goal in mind, a perceived outcome, the realisation of your vision, this lack of specific intent is self-defeating. Inspiration without focus will get you nowhere.

The truth is, no matter how valuable the effort, you can read hundreds of articles on what it takes to write a graphic novel and research the subject until you turn blue in the face, but the actual learning only starts once you have immersed yourself in it. That is when you really start applying your previous experience and picking up on those mistakes that make the difference between a bad book and a good one.

The idea is to take a deep breath, learn from your oversights and then go back, rewrite and improve. Return to the original drawing board, get rid of the bad and retain the good. Even the Hemingways and Gaimans of the world rework a piece. If you truly believe in what you are doing and wish to share it, it really is worth your time and effort to get it right. Forget the fact that there are only ten thousand good, retainable words for every thirty-thousand you have written. These words weren’t wasted.

Author: Nanieve Groenewald

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