I have been struggling with writing that all important first draft of a chapter in my C.A.T. novel. I ended up editing and re-editing it numerous times. Compared to the previous 6 chapters it was a darned brain-acher of a struggle to get into shape. And I found myself asking, ‘Why was this chapter a real pain?’
So over a convivial cup of decent coffee, I settled down to do some analysis. The answers surprised even me.
We are talking here about chapter 7 out of 9 chapters. So the story is over the two-thirds mark and crossing the three-quarters mark. The obvious question was, ‘Could it be because I was failing to start to pull all the story threads together to make a satisfying ending?’
I was still keeping to my outline strategy for the novel and the main characters were all on course to reach their fulfilment goals. So the answer had to be no.
Could it be because one or more characters had gone off on a tangent, thereby taking longer writing-wise to achieve their story arc?
At this stage of writing the novel, i.e. first main draft, I was within my acceptable wordcount for where I was in the strategy and story arc. So again the answer was no.
What about world building? Was what I was supplying as background throwing some spanners in the work?
Being a science fiction novel means that there is a lot of background world building. A lot is already known about the place and is being drawn on for the novel, in spades. It’s like having a barren canvas to paint a picture on. A lot of what needs to be added comes from natural extrapolations of technology trends and human reactions to living in those habitats. Those of us immersed in the tropes of science fiction grab what to us is obvious and add it in.
Sometimes in these situations, the little details throw some profound implications of what should be included in the world building. It’s like small ripples spreading out and end up coming back as large tidal waves. Could I be fighting off such tidal waves?
I produced a couple of lists for the chapters. The first was a list of which significant technologies were based on standard science fiction technology themes that had been extrapolated further for the novel agains the chapter they were introduced in. The second list, again by chapter, comprised what I call the disruptor ideas. These are science and technology ideas that I have not seen elsewhere in science fiction, which have the ripple to tidal wave effect in the novel i.e. they start out as small one line comments, but by the time the implications of the one line has wormed its way through the rest of the chapter, the whole chapter has significantly changed in flavour and impact.
The first list of extrapolated ideas were scattered throughout the chapters on a fairly even basis. The second list of disruptor ideas were in chapter 1 and restarted in chapter 4, and from then on increased in prevalence. Chapter 7 produced two major disruptor ideas.
It was at this point that I realised that I was having a lot of problems getting the interaction between these two disruptor ideas working properly together. I was out on my own, with no references to look back on in the science fiction genre, for each of them. And putting the two together was pure nightmare.
At this point, that old sneaky enemy, self-doubt reared its ugly head. Had I got the combination right? After all the work, checking the ifs and buts, fitting both in with the plot and the characterisation, you bet I got it right. Was it too ambitious to include both ideas? Well the result was so jaw-dropping in terms of ‘going where no science fiction has gone before’ that I would have to say no. Would the result be credible to new readers of the novel, if and when it gets published? Well, looking back on the disruptor ideas, they are kind of obvious. They make sense in the setting of the novel, which is what counts.
So where does this leave writing chapter 8?
As it so happens, the ‘theme’ for chapter 8 leads naturally to another disruptor idea. The emphasis here is naturally. Taking the existing disruptor ideas through and following them to their ‘obvious’ conclusion will be a nightmare in its own right, because there are now quite a few them. I’ll be asking questions like, ‘Does this disruptor idea impact that disruptor idea, and if so, how?’ One thing I can be certain of is, that although this will require work and effort, the result will be eagerly anticipated on my part, and I hope any future readers will feel the same.