Rewriting THE LONG ROAD: week 1

because sucky worldbuilding gets us nowhere

because sucky worldbuilding gets us nowhere

This is the first in a series of posts about the redrafting process of THE LONG ROAD which will be composed and published as I rewrite the book. The initial post outlining why this book is getting said rewrite is here.

I have known for some time that there are problems with THE LONG ROAD. That is to be expected since it’s the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. Let me say right at the outset that the book it turned into, and that the book it is about to turn into, is a completely different animal than the book it started as. Draft 1 to its current incarnation is a truly shocking display of evolution. Perhaps the biggest change was the decision around Draft 3 to make it a Serious Book and to move away from the attempted Hitchhiker’s Guide farcical humor of the initial drafts. This was mostly my doing and not my co-author’s – one of my first epiphanies as a budding writer was the certain knowledge that I am not a humorist. There are flashes of humor, sure, but I am no Douglas Adams or Mark Twain. I’m way too earnest for that.

The problem with this, with Aerdh more generally to be honest, is that so much of the foundational worldbuilding of this fantasy universe happened when Jon (the aforementioned co-author) and I were still playing (incompetently on my end) with slapstick. I have scrubbed Aerdh clean of most of the slapstick, but your first book is something weirdly personal and weirdly special. It seems almost untouchable. I have a fanatical attachment to this book which defies logic: it is, in this incarnation, not the sort of tale I write well or particularly even like reading and yet the idea of publishing anything and not publishing this feels very wrong. All of that is to say that it has taken several years for me to admit that maybe whole sections of plot made no sense. And maybe that is because some of the upfront worldbuilding I did a million years ago when I first started writing this book was total crap.

I thought, somewhat naively, that what I needed to do to get this rewrite up off the ground was to cut a bunch of stuff and streamline the plot. Last week, in the contained environment of a plane (I love writing on planes), I started brainstorming. On exploratory first drafts I’m not much of a planner, but for rewrites I very much am. So I thought I’d do some outlining, and then I realized just how much needed to change in order for the book to move from a well-executed silly and trite fantasy novel to an actual Good Book. The outline turned into a list of razor sharp HOW ARE YOU SO STUPID type questions about all the parts of the plot I’ve always been too much of a tender-hearted wuss to admit made no sense. But the biggest thing I realized is that I never did the really hardcore worldbuilding I needed to get done.

THE LONG ROAD centers around a group of elvish rebels trying to make it to the end of a nasty and brutish civil war. I worked out the elves’ society, the humans’ society, the way those societies interacted and mutually shaped each other, systems of magic, geography, etc. What I never spent that much time on in terms of worldbuilding was the war itself. It started because of…reasons? And ends because…something cool happens? I don’t know. I know what the world looked like before the war, during it, and after it, but the world itself is a huge nasty blind spot. This is very embarrassing to admit, but it’s true.

Today when I sat down to crank out some outlining for this rewrite I realized actually I have to take a step back further than I thought. I have to sort a bunch of shit out, do some very deliberate and crafty worldbuilding which is now complicated by the fact that I have written multiple novels that dovetail with the outcomes and highlights of this war, all of which ideally will remain consistent with one another.

My plan of attack is to write a fairly dry wikipedia-style entry that tracks the war from start to finish: how it started, who shot first, the highlights and lowlights, how it ended and why it ended that way. Wish me luck!