I started reading Draft 3 of TUBE yesterday, in preparation for Draft 4, and I was astounded by how easy it was to see where the story was trying too hard and where I was trying too hard, and to make mental notes on cutting out those bits without mercy (I no longer write on Post-it notes like I used to, I don't follow them anyway).
I finished writing Draft 3 on March 21st. Today is June 28th, so about three months have passed. That's a significant break compared to two-three weeks I used to take off between drafts of one novel (that is, before I started sandwiching drafts of two different novels). And I tell you, I think I'll be sticking with this formula for a while. At least until I figure out something better.
There are bits on every page where I'm afraid, and so I've written expositions and explanations that nobody needs. It's like someone underlined them all in red and they're glaring me in the face. The worst bits are the time the story happens in, the names of the characters used too much in the fear of the reader getting lost, the descriptions of surroundings, the supporting statements to the dialogue that make sure the reader gets enough backstory, and the like. Well, you know what? To hell with backstory! It only makes the present story weaker, pulls it away from the NOW. That's what I've noticed with this draft. Whenever I go into the past or into the future, it slows down the pace and the story starts dragging. Unless I make the past happen in the NOW and shift time, and unless I make the future happen NOW and shift time. Curious, no? Kind of like the concept of happiness of being in the NOW. I wonder if it applied to novels, or to storytelling in general. We want to be THERE, after all, it's why we read, and what better place to be than in the NOW? The invented non-existing NOW that is so real we believe it is real?
Another thing I'm noticing is that I'm rushing. There is so much stuff going on that I sprint from scene to scene at break-neck speed, and that's bad. That doesn't give my reader enough time to process what is happening. From the books I've read recently, I have learned that I don't need to write EVERYTHING IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. As in, I don't need to spell out every single movement of every single character from point A to point B (this came from reading Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and Dune by Frank Herbert). I can simply cut out the transitions and start in a new place, with a completely new scene. And I don't even need to bring in characters that are there but are not as important to the story, I can fully avoid them in dialogue and in descriptions, only mentioning them once in a while (this came from reading The Summer Book by Tove Jansson). So all these bits will be chopped off too, and then the remaining scenes will become longer. I will add some meat to them, as they are truly skeletal right now because of the unnecessary transitions and characters.
And the main thing, of course, is fear. I’m seeing that I’m skirting on the surface, afraid to dive into the real darkness of why I’m writing TUBE. In order for me to be true to myself and make this book stellar, I’ll have to go there, and boy, do I dread that. I don't want to go there, don't want to touch it, but I have to. I was able to go there in Janna, and I failed to do the same with TUBE, so unless I fix it, the book will be shit.
Then something else cropped up which I thought I had solved in the previous draft. I was reading and reading and reading, and thinking, “This is just a collection of short scenes, nothing to sink your teeth in.” And then, Boom! The way Chapter 14 started got my attention, and I got to thinking about chopping off the whole beginning yet again and starting with Chapter 14. Which I just did. (Spent the better part of the day writing the opening 239 words. With the new opening line and everything. What the hell??)
It's amazing how every story is different. I think it was only Rosehead and Janna that came to me in their entireties, all my other books so far have been shifting their beginnings and endings as they please. Though of course, I don't know what Janna will do in the future. She's unpredictable.
Another major issue is location. At one point the story takes over and dictates the place it's happening. I didn't intend to write a book about a train, but when I applied for the Amtrak Residency, a wild streak got under my tail and I wrote in my application that I'm going to write a novel about a train. How that got connected to ballerinas, kill me, I don't remember, but in the course of writing TUBE I tried writing a story of me riding an American train, and now the story is telling me that it was wrong, that it should've stayed in Russia, where I know trains best, where I've been riding trains my entire life. And maybe that's exactly what I'll do, switch locations to Russia, no, to Soviet Union, the time before it collapsed. Maybe. I haven't decided yet.
And then the title. For reasons you will find out soon, I'm thinking about changing it to Tyubik, because that's what the story is really about. And no more secrets. I spell out everything in the new opening line. Can't help it. Seems all my books are like that, grabbing you by the scruff of your neck and not letting you go (at least I hope so).
So. The biggest lesson I'm learning from all of this is:
LISTEN TO YOUR STORY.
The story will tell you where to go. Your job is to simply write it down. That's all there is to it. (So easy to say, so hard to do.)