Like a gazelle in a field of ravening cheetahs, I am sticking my head above the wall as that rarest of rare things on the Macaronis, an unpublished author. Do not worry, Alex Beecroft has given permission for the tasty morsel to wander into your playing field.
See, I am about 5 days away from finishing my first draft of my first ever Historical Novel. Well, my first ever novel. And not being an historian, nor especially well versed in history, I thought it could be interesting for people to see how someone like me goes about writing a first draft, and how they envision the writing process.
The story I’m writing, with a working title of De Ruina Mundi (I was being clever and allegorical. Next time it will be called “Book about XXXXX” Much less hassle.) is set in late 15th Century Florence, and is a commentary about church vs. secularism, and how the two were in direct opposition at the time, much as they are today (up to and including problem teens lurking on corners! I’m not joking!). It is the story of a sculptor, a novice monk, and a young aristocrat and features Savonarola and Cosimo de Medici as what I call ‘mid level characters’
Now, when I started writing this, I had just got canned from the “I Do!” anthology for trying to tell a long story in less than 10,000 words.
Now, when I first started writing this, I had just got canned from the “I Do!” anthology for trying to tell a long story in less than 10,000 words.
Frankly, looking at it now, it was an unmitigated disaster., and would not have fit the anthology at all. So, I started De Ruina Mundi (DRM) pretty much from square one. I had three things on my side though, I’ve studied architectural history, I’m a highly theologically educated Roman Catholic, and I can read Italian.
Now, right at the beginning of DRM, I had to make a choice about how I was going to write it. I know that this has been brought up on Speak Its Name, actually in reference to DRM itself, so let me explain my
reasoning. As I read Italian, it means that I can read 15th Century Italian very easily, and not much has changed since then. Furthermore, Italian is written and spoken with a certain cadence and inflection that I can easily mimic in English. The thought of writing it in what I call “old-speake” seemed unnecessarily complex, and extremely anachronistic. Therefore, I decided to write it using Italian expressions and cadence, but in modern English.
So okay, now, I know that I want to write something about sculpture and art, and humanism versus the church, because I’ve always been very interested in the politics of art and architecture. But how best to showcase this? Well, how about an apprentice sculptor named Giuseppe Martedi (Johnny Tuesday! Hee!) and his friend Tomasino Rossi. They have grown up together, been friends since childhood, but now their
varying vocations are tearing them apart. They’ve always had a bit of a thing for the other, though Giuseppe is most definitely bisexual, while Tomasino pretty much only likes men. This book was supposed to be their story, a nice, 60k-ish novella about coming of age under two such defined institutions. It is not.
See, I had attempted to write the “I Do!” story with an outline, and got bored, so I figured I’d not try an outline for this one. And suddenly we had a the master-sculptor called Battista, his patron, Signor Agostino (vassal of the Medici), and his son Marco, and Signor Agostino’s brother, Fra. Benedetto, the novice master, and one of the few monks who were kept on at San Marco when Savonarola came to clear it up. And like Fleury in Standish by Erastes, the bloody buggers refused to go away! Okay, so reassess. Tie in Marco and Battista together, put some tension in between Benedetto, Signor Agostino, and Marco. Have Marco have a few horrible occurrences in his past. Suddenly, I’m 20k in, and completely confused as to where this was going.
I better interject here, that I write in a very amusing fashion for those reading along on etherpad. I do not stop writing to research. At all. So my text goes along the lines of…
“Marco and Tomasino stood at the end of the (road??? – what precisely was a road like! ) waiting for the (XXXX transport device). (Insert description of road here.) Marco turned to Tomasino and said (Foreshadow this!)… ”
Which means that I kind of have a really really rough draft as I’m writing. (Note – that is a made-up example – there tend to be fewer comments per sentence). I figure that it should all be okay when I’m editing, but if you guys like this post, I’ll come back and tell you about how that all went.
Okay, sit back and reassess again. Luckily for me, my characters come with built in flaws – as a monk, Tomasino is the epitome of male Renaissance beauty. Which today would be called plump, rounded, fat.
Giuseppe is a little shit that is really up his own arse, and teases Tomasino about this continually. Ah, defensive men are amusing. And Marco is very impulsive, and very very “I look after me and mine. You are either for me or against me.” So, how to exploit those flaws?
Let’s ramp up the conflict, and introduce a nice Jesuit priest because the Dominicans were essentially founded to control the Jesuits. And boy do they hate each other. Move on from there…
At about 50k, I had a random panic. I thought I knew where the book was going to end, but how to get there and not blather on and on. (Rather like this post). I wrote an outline. It was a good outline.
Three days later I get smacked upside the head with a new ending.
Cue panic. Cue irritation. Cue new outline. Great. Ending sorted. HAH! No way. Seven chapters in, one of the characters refuses to behave himself (and it took Vashtan to remind me why). Cue soul searching. New ending appears. New ending is trite. More soul searching. New way to do that ending. Am I taking the easy way out? Am I playing to stereotype? Is the story consistent?
And so it goes. Endings have come and endings have gone. I am now about 27k away from the final word (taking a long weekend, so I can finish it off) and I am still a bit unsure of exactly how it is going to end. I have actually lost the time-line, and so my first edit is going to be retimelining the bloody thing.
There is much less sex in it than I originally thought there would be, and a lot less romance. Apparently my people never eat. Though they frequently have baths. This has ended up being a story of political intrigue, of people living and dying in one of the most volatile periods in European Catholic history. And I hope an entertaining read.
I know that I am going to have one hell of a job on my hands editing this. But it has been the most amazing four months of my life. I never thought I could do it. I have been supported by some fantastic people,new friends and old. It has been a fantastic journey, and now the finish line is in sight.
So if you’re thinking of thinking of writing something. Go ahead. Take the plunge. It is worth it.
So thank you Alex, and Erastes for letting me post this here. Will keep you updated.