Almost two years ago, I announced that the next novel I was going to write was a superhero tale called Big Ape. Then, life threw a couple of plot twists at me. First, Solaris agreed to revert the rights back to my Dragon Apocalypse books. I’d been holding off on writing the fourth book in that series until that came about, since if the fourth book boosted sales of the first three books, it might have delayed the reversion. Second, I was named Piedmont Laureate for 2015, and spent a year teaching and talking about writing, but not actually producing much work. When my laureate duties came an end, I plunged into the fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel, Cinder, finally getting it into print in mid-May. Then, finally, I started working on Big Ape.
Alas, I did something I frequently advise other writers not to do: I wrote three chapters, then went back and started the novel all over again. My plan had been to produce a parallel novel to Cut Up Girl. Harry (Big Ape) and Vic (Cut Up Girl) have lives that are intertwined by multiple big events, and I thought it would be interesting to see these events from two different perspectives.
Unfortunately, once I actually started writing, this approach just got bogged down with repeated details. I don’t think meshing the two plots together would have been a big deal, but I found myself reintroducing the same members of the supporting cast. Supporting characters are trickier to write than you might imagine, since you often have to capture their entire personality and backstories in just a few telling details. If I tried to give Vic and Harry wildly different perspectives on some of these characters, the inconsistencies made the characters impossible to pin down. If I didn’t change the personality traits and details, though, I felt like I was being redundant.
By the third chapter, I felt like I was just repeating myself. And a lot of the back story I was writing about Harry’s early years seemed like stuff that I could easily integrate into the Cut Up Girl novel. So, I ditched those three chapters and went back and started writing from Big Ape’s perspective one minute after the end of the events of Cut Up Girl, focusing on his life moving forward.
So far, this draft feels right. It’s got a lot of energy and momentum, and I’m getting to introduce brand new supporting characters instead of rehashing old ones. Rose Rifle from the first book turned out to have a vigilante son who calls himself Reverend Rifle, and the Rev is a lot of fun to write, a sort of mashup between Batman, the Lone Ranger, and an evangelical preacher. I’ve also discovered that when Harry first joined the Lawful Legion, he was part of a teen brigade that included two girls, Smash Lass and Elsa Where, and the dynamics between the three of them are flowing out really easily. The most difficult character so far has been Screaming Jenny, who has the power to curse at people until they catch fire. I’ve got a good story arc planned for her, but so far she’s just not talking to me. I keep even forgetting she’s in the room when I’m writing scenes with the other characters. Not good, since her arc really creates a lot of drama around the middle of the book.
Oh well. That’s why you write first drafts.
I’m now up to chapter 8, with 38,509 words down on paper. This likely means I’m about 1/3 of the way through. I’d hoped to get the first draft done before the end of August, but that’s going to require a much faster pace than I’ve so far managed. Still, that’s the goal.
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I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!