I can hardly believe it, but I’m at the end of Act I. I shouldn’t be surprised, since this is roughly consistent with my output when I’ve had 40 hours a week to devote to writing in the past, but I’ve been working 90+ hours a week for other people and writing nothing of my own for so long, I’ve forgotten progress is possible. I wish all this writing time wasn’t at the expense of not being able to pay bills next month, but as the saying goes, every silver lining has a funnel cloud.
In response to some unsolicited “advice” that I could get a bit of cash flowing by serializing this story as I go, here’s a small sample of what this story looks like right now:
Busy adults and a handful of children taking turns between food and chores. Wailing baby. Shaggy dog sniffed her boots, found nothing of particular interest, and trotted away. Cat perched on the step of a wagon regarded her with one sulfurous yellow eye.
“He doesn’t like owls.”
It physically pains me to show that ugliness in public, but if my mortification helps one person get over the idea that writing means sitting down at the keyboard and typing tens of thousands of words exactly as they appear in the finished book*, it will be worth it.
I have written serials. It is a fundamentally different process than writing a novel. Serials (that aren’t a chopped-up version of a finished book) are, by necessity, edit-as-you-go. That prose gets polished to a mirror finish every couple thousand words and flung out into the world—and once flung, you are locked into what you’ve given readers. If you realize 10 chapters in the future that you should have introduced a character, item, or concept sooner, too bad. You can’t go back and correct the oversight because everyone has already seen it. You have to figure out how to make it work going forward because that’s the only direction you can move in a serial. If you like spontaneity (heads up, pantsers), serials might be fun for you.
I despise spontaneity. I am all about 50-page outlines and series bibles and story treatments that eliminate as many surprises as possible from the putting-words-into-the-story part of writing—and I still miss things, despite all that preparation, because the act of putting words into the story blows open the shutters to reveal a whole realm of possibilities outside the room I so carefully planned. A lot of those possibilities are distractions, but some might make the story better. Better stories are a good thing! Always be open to making the story better.
The thing about possibilities, though, is that the reader needs to know possibilities exist before they happen. If you decide after 200 pages that a character thus far portrayed as a perfectly average human in a perfectly average world can suddenly breathe fire, that’s completely out of the blue. If you’ve kept those 200 pages to yourself (as opposed to publishing as you go in a serial), you can go back and insert the character’s concern she’s getting strep because her throat feels raw and scorched, some suggestive imagery of a carnival performer “breathing” fire, a mysterious stranger asking about atypical abilities, etc., setting up the possibility of the character incinerating an attacker with a fiery scream so when that happens, the reader’s response is “Aha! That’s where those clues were leading!” rather than “WTF, whatever, might as well fart lightning now, there are obviously no rules.”
A lot of foreshadowing doesn’t exist until revisions, after you have a full version of the story, know what needs to be foreshadowed, and can find the best places to blend that into the story rather than plunking down a flashing billboard that says 🚨 GUESS WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN LATER 🚨. Same with symbolism and theme, which are hard to maximize while working on the bigger picture. Also general internal consistency! A protagonist who has never before been outside their small fishing village shouldn’t be peppering their speech with metaphors for things they’ve never seen, like “tall as a castle tower”—in revisions, you replace words you, the author, reached for with references familiar to the character, such as “tall as a ship’s mast.” The depth and resonance of a novel are made possible by the ability to travel backward and add.
So although a potential source of immediate income sounds like a reasonable idea, it’s incompatible in every way with what I’m doing here. More power to anyone who can successfully pull off a work-in-progress serial, but I could not be less interested in such a thing.
*Of course there are authors who claim this is exactly what they do. While there is absolutely a spectrum of first-draft messiness↔tidiness, unless you’ve seen someone produce an entire perfect draft live, take claims of such mythical proportion with entire oceans of salt.