First Drafts and Secondary Characters
I started a new novel a few days ago. Apart from NaNoWriMo, it’s some time since I did this with any success, by which I mean I haven’t completed a first draft that wasn’t for NaNo since summer 2011 — and that was for Camp NaNoWriMo.
Of course, editing’s great. It’s creative, it’s an opportunity to develop characters in all sorts of exciting new depth, and it’s a chance to make crappy words not crappy. But there’s something about starting a new novel that’s just different. From these first chapters, it can go ANYWHERE, and become anything.
Disclaimer: this novel isn’t completely new. In fact, it’s old. Very old. (Old as balls.) The basic concept, you see, is based on the basic concept of my first ever novel, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2009.
Man, I owe a lot to NaNo. I really don’t know what I would have done without it. Been a ‘one day I’ll write a book’ kind of writer for the rest of my life, most likely.
Anyway, so I’m taking this concept of two alien races, one basically angelic and the other basically demonic, and having them fight on Earth over someone who isn’t entirely human, and having a member of the angelic race fall in love with that person. Did you hear that clash of cymbals? That was the CLICHÉD YOUNG ADULT NOVEL alert. I have it set on extra-sensitive, so I think it just fell off the wall.
Clearly, this needed work. First of all, in nearly every story, the fought-over not-quite-human is a girl, and the supernatural / paranormal being is male. But a few days previously, I’d written in my notebook, In which he is young and innocent and naive and she is damned and as ancient as all time. Which suggests I was thinking about reversing traditional roles, in which a young female character (usually with no relationship background, am I right?) is swept off her feet by a confident, experienced guy.
So let’s reverse these characters. Now we’ve got a guy (Joseph) and our mysterious angelic being (Susanna). Awesome. But where/how are they going to meet? I mean, we could have Joe in school and then an attack from the demon-like creatures and then … CRASH! Oh, my cliché detector fell down again. Oops.
Who says it has to be modern? What is it about urban fantasy (and really, if it weren’t for the magical elements, this is closer to sci-fi: they’re aliens, after all) that means it nearly ends up being put in the 21st century?
So, I thought for a while. And BAM. Victorian London. I mean, it’s a great setting for steampunk novels and the like, as well as historical realistic tales, but why not stick something SF in that setting, that has no clockwork or steam-powered airships? Who’s to say I can’t do that? To be sure, I’m probably not breaking new ground here, but it’s definitely not something I’ve come across so often. And it’s definitely new for me.
I started writing, feeling for Joseph’s voice as I went (as I decided he should narrate it). But what were these minor characters doing? I intended them to be secondary, background characters, particularly Georgina. But suddenly, she was stealing the show, a badass Cockney street fighter. Fair enough. (She’s not actually a fighter, but she’s enthusiastic and fairly competent with a knife, so she’ll defend herself.)
And that’s what I love about first drafts. Because while every now and again I’m taking material, heavily edited and changed, from my previous attempt at this kind of story, I know that this could go anywhere from here. I don’t know how the contributions of Nathaniel and Georgina are going to play out, but I am very much looking forward to seeing it.
And of course, the first draft, my first novel, had a happy ending.
We’ll have to do something about that.