f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of <i>Ezekiel’s Shadow</i> - Bad Ideas: Part I - Those I Could Control

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Day 2 of Ezekiel’s Shadow - Bad Ideas: Part I - Those I Could Control

(The way this will work best is for you to visit Mark Bertrand's site first. Read his post. Then come back here as I comment a bit on the points that he makes.)

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Let’s start off with the dumbest thing I did while writing Ezekiel’s Shadow.

Ready?

I didn’t let people know that Cain escaped the fire at the end. It was in my initial draft but I needed to pare it down and somehow that detail was missed.

That’s the dumbest thing you did? Mark Bertrand asks agog, looking over all that he has written. Errrm, I disagree.

Ah, but you didn’t receive the mail. In the limited amount of correspondence I received after ES, more letters mentioned this omission than anything else. Take that, Mark!

(I was able, at least, to write back to all those tenderhearted people who were worried about Cain to reassure them that, yes, the dog perished.)

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The second dumbest thing?

The second dumbest thing I did was think to myself, "You know what?" I’d really like to explore the lives of Peter Ray, Jaret Chapman, and Kevin Contrade in their own books. Like a linked series. And their writing group stories would play a part and it would all culminate in this grand finale with Kevin’s weird book that he keeps burning finally being told. Rock on!"

Obviously, that hasn’t happened. But when you say these things in your mind while writing, then suddenly leaving mid-sized plot points dangling seems far less problematic. Because darn it I’ll simply wrap them up in Book 2, 3, or 4.

Here’s some simple advice: unless you have a specific contract for sequels and some nod from the publisher, treat Book 1 like the only book.

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One thing that may not have been dumb but didn’t end up working out and was intentional is the book’s structure. A prologue, eight sections that cover a week, and an epilogue.

Why did I do it? Partly because I’m anal and like structured things. When I write, you’ll often notice, I do things like say, A), B), and C). Or use bold face and bullet points. Outlines and tangible, skeletal organization work for me. They make sense.

The other reason is that it helped me write. As you’re writing the points in a novel when you ask "What comes next?" are the hardest parts. For me, what comes next was always slightly out-of-my-hands because what came next would be, well, Monday. Or Wednesday.

The problem is that the choice was a contrivance made for reasons that generally worked but weren’t totally for the sake of the story. If Mark thinks there were problems now imagine that in early drafts, I was writing portions for EVERY STINKING DAY FOR EIGHT WEEKS. You should see how many walks with Cain were left on the cutting room floor.

A connected problem is that the choice to tell the story over eight weeks wasn’t fully realized. I set it up so that Ian would have to turn in a rough draft and be forced to face his writer’s block. It was to ramp up stakes but still be realistic. (Nobody, for instance, would demand a story in just three days.) The problem, which we’ll deal with over the week, is that a number of factors collide to render that deadline obsolete. So instead of a ticking clock, counting down in dramatic style, I’ve got a puzzled author facing life without a deadline for the first time. Intriguing (to me) but less dramatic.

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The last dumb thing that I’ll mention today deals with genre. It’s something that’s going to come up a few times over the next few days so I thought I’d address here.

Ezekiel’s Shadow is not a suspense novel that derailed and gave up its mystery. It’s not a literary novel that tried to capture people’s attention with a flashy suspenseful beginning.

ES was written, intentionally, so that early moments of suspense become a trigger (inciting incident) for an internal struggle. My plan, pretty much from the middle of the first draft, was to have the external plot (the stalking) dominate the first half but then lose primacy as Ian’s internal struggle with his identity takes precedence.

A.) I think I accomplished this.

B.) It may not have been the best idea.

C.) This joins a pretty length list of reasons why I’ll likely never become a bestselling author. Subverting classic genre structure for an intentional anti-climax–there’s some market issues with that choice.

D.) I’m not sure I could be convinced to reconceive the book as a thriller.

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Have thoughts or comments or questions or critiques of your own? Sound off at the f*i*f discussion board!

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Go to Day 3 of our discussion of Ezekiel's Shadow.