Every novel I've ever worked on hits a part in the middle where I find myself utterly discouraged. I really can't win, no matter how things are going. If the words are flowing easily, I find myself worried that what I'm writing is too trite and simple. Maybe it's flowing because I'm rehashing old, tired ideas, not putting anything fresh or original on the page. The flip side to this problem is that the words aren't flowing at all, and I'm convinced that what I'm writing is too weird and strange to ever be of interest to anyone. I'm aware of my tendency to follow my characters places it's probably not wise for them to go.
In Big Ape, I encountered a little of both. Originally, I had planned for one of the primary villains of the book to be called Bad Mother. She had an army of robotic crime babies. But, her most lethal, city destroying weapon was a 300 foot tall robotic doll called Big Baby. The problem: My first novel features a 300 foot tall robotic doll with a gun for a head, called Baby Gun. Now, it might seem like it should have been obvious to me that I was repeating myself before I even started typing. But, the thing is, Bad Mother rose up organically in my imagination as a female, tech genius supervillain. There are surprisingly few female mad scientists in comic books, and I felt like I needed to balance the gender scale a little. And, honestly, I just love typing the words "crime babies." And once I had an army of robotic babies on tap, well, the logical progression was Big Baby. And, once you have a Big Baby, of course I have to have him trashing a major American city, while my Big Ape protagonist uses a growth ray to grow to an equal size to fight him and... and... then, in the middle of the fight, finally, oh yeah, Baby Gun. I've done this before.
But, so what? I've written about dragons in 8 different books. Is it completely forbidden for an author to repeat himself?
In the middle of the chapter, I knew Big Baby had to go, which also meant that Bad Mother probably wasn't going to make the cut either. So, losing the villain mid-novel... kind of a problem. But, a problem that I solved, I hope, with an even more insane villain named Technosaurus. He's a sixty-five million year old survivor of a race of intelligent dinosaurs who... I should say no more. You'll have to read the book. Let's just say that robotic dinosaurs aren't quite as satisfying to write as crime babies, but they get the job done.
Once I had my villain problem solved, though, I ran smack into a "character going someplace I didn't plan for them to go" problem. Big Ape is a fairly light-hearted character with a sense of humor and an instinctual drive to do good. He has a dark side, though, and a tragic past that gives him depth. But, about two thirds of the way into the book, I put him into a situation where he faces a temptation to do something that might cost him a lot of reader sympathy. And, it seems like I would be the final arbiter of whether or not he made the right choice, but that's not always how writing works. The character wanted to do the wrong thing. Needed to do the wrong thing. The wrong thing was the only possible choice he had given his history and the stresses he'd been under in the story to that point. So, I wrote the last third of the book with the character fully aware of his transgression, and me grappling with whether or not I could forgive him for his transgression. Ultimately, I think it gives the character depth, but I still have the sinking feeling that a lot of readers will be pissed off by the character doing such an unheroic thing. Then again, literature is full of heroes who fail moral tests. King Arthur couldn't control his lusts. Big Ape is still a good guy, he just has flaws. Flaws are important in a character, right?
I guess we'll find out.
At this point, I'm undecided about my next move. I could go back and start revising Cut Up Girl and Big Ape. Or, I could launch into yet another novel first draft, and give myself some distance from Big Ape before I start revising. I'll definitely make my choice by early October. Until then, stay tuned!
Welcome to my worlds!
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!