Over the weekend, I wrote a book. It was really fun at the start, and then really hard in the middle, and then INSANELY fun at the end. And the best part is, lots and lots of people got to see it happen in realtime.
I won't get into the whole "what is livewriting" thing here, because most of you know, but there are some fun stats for you to look at: I wrote 68,945 words in 51 hours (not including 8 hours for sleeping and eating) which is approximately 22 words per minute, or 1,343 words per hour. There are 300 questions in the system, and 2,088 answers. In terms of range, the shortest chapter was 351 words, and the longest was 2,425. And I got 700 emails across the three days, only 50 of which were from clients asking me if I could do something quick for them over the weekend :P
Writing the book was not all smooth sailing. I had a reasonably solid outline, but there were two issues I was trying to be conscious of, and in the end, I think I was TOO conscious of, to the detriment of the whole.
BTW, spoilers below.
The first issue was knowing that this was a sequel, and that not everyone joining in would have read Typhoon. Or the right VERSION of Typhoon. and that make it harder to really dive into things. I felt like I had to take a moment to explain things, get people up to speed... but then it felt like I was infodumping, and doing it badly. And I realized (a bit too late) that I normally write books without that kind of backstory, and I do it unapologetically, because the character's past isn't always relevant to their present, even if it is. It might be important to know that Kani wasn't Tundra until Stacey burnt out, but if I were writing this book on its own, would I have gone into that, or just left people to fend for themselves? I personally prefer to make you work for your understanding. I should've seen that, but I was too worried about making it accessible.
The other issue was probably bigger, and made even BIGGER by the fact that I was worrying about the first issue. It was this: the characters — Kani especially — were going through evolutions in their personalities in bursts, rather than over the course of the story. It's one of the pitfalls of a detailed outline, I think: you know that Kani is going to turn on Simon, and you want it to seem justifiable, so you need to make him a bit of an annoying jerk. And in your mind, Simon's behaviour is a natural extension of where he was in Typhoon: he's really supportive, he's super-sensitive, and he doesn't back down easily. He left his girlfriend to help Kani. He's a great guy. But when the pressure's off, Simon is clingy and bordering on emo. And that's where it went wrong on me. I knew Simon had to grate on her, so I pushed the "annoying" button all the way down, instead of slowly ramping it up. And I made Kani's reactions even more exaggerated than they should've been, because I was equally afraid that she would seem wishy-washy when he was acting so intense. And then you introduce Alexandre into the mix and... well, the story was a giant mess of dialled-up emotions that seemed to happen for no reason. But there WAS a reason. It had just happened in my head, the night before the event. I was compensating for problems that hadn't happened yet, and by doing so, I made them worse.
Plot-wise, I think the story flowed much better than it might have. There were parts where you were confused about what was going to happen, but I don't think there were too many BORING parts. I think Simon needed to be more pro-active earlier (in a less whiney and hormonal way), but the thing was pretty well packed with Stuff That Happened. So that was nice. It was confusing to be sure, and a great deal of the storylines started in Typhoon and continue on to book 3, but with Rook's backstory and Kani's realization that she's moving on... I think the book stands pretty well with its own beginning, middle and end.
I want to talk a bit about Kani, because to me, she's the vital part. I think what Mr Andrews told her by the river is very much the truth (though I think he's carefully avoiding addressing the WHOLE truth) when he says that Stacey's predicament unlocked a part of her that can't really be put back in the bottle. There's the Harry Potter hero who is the Chosen One and will rise to meet their destiny, and there are the heroes who honestly have no predisposition to being heroic, but they do their damn best. But his point is that Kani has a personality that, if you poke it the right way, is perfect for being a dustrunner. She doesn't take crap from people, she has a strong sense of who she is, and when you push her hard enough, she pushes back. What I WANTED to show in Polarity was the transition for her: she wanted to believe she could go back to being a teenager in Toronto and forget what happened in book 1. And it's not that she's drawn back into the thick of things: she could stay at the periphery of Alexandre and Gossamer and all that, but she CAN'T. When she finished that first mission as Tundra, she BECAME Tundra. This book was about her trying to deny that reality, and finally coming to accept it. She still has lots of learning to do, but I don't think she's going to hold on to the hope of being her old self again. That part of her is gone.
There was a lot of criticism of this aspect of the book, and I really do think it'll be improved after an edit, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure I acknowledge that I know what you mean, and I'm going to fix it.
Now: the important part. The ending, and the cliffhangers. As I was writing those chapters (with Jackson, Mo, Rook and Elvis, Kani and Rache but especially Kaso) in varying degrees of Terrible Danger, I was seeing a lot of very angry people writing in the chat and on gTalk. I know there was concern that I was going to be upset by it, but I just want to tell you: hell no. That's the best part for me.
This is the strange thing: novelists don't get to see what movie people see. I was at the premiere for RollBots and I saw the effect lines had on people, and how they felt when the good guys won. It was a great feeling, seeing people like what you'd done, because it means you've done something right. When people CARE about the characters, it means you've done something right. And that's what I love about livewriting.
There was that moment where Mo had just died and Freeman was giving Diez the account number, and he said "3296-444..." which means "distress" and the next two numbers mean "how many hostiles" and "how dangerous are they?" and I sat there, rushing to the end of a very intensely-emotional scene, and I wrote:
and you have to imagine the video is on, people are watching me type the numbers out, and I type:
Period. And it was like: "Guess what, Diez? Rook's gonna kill you now." And it felt SO GOOD because right there, I crossed that line from being a novelist to being a performer. I created a "BOOM" moment without sound effects, camera angles, editing or any of that stuff. It was the best part of the whole thing for me.
Slightly undermined by the fact that a lot of people didn't get it, but still... :)
The point I'm trying to make is this: I love that you threatened my life when Kaso was in danger. That's what this is: it's drama in the story, and outside the story. The chained question about killing Kaso was just excellent, because it created a moment of tension outside what was happening in the story. "Someone's at the door" and the reactions that got... or Rook exploding in the atmosphere... or Elvis meeting Lucet... those are things I WANT you to say "NOOOOOOOO!!!!" for and get mad about and really CARE about. If you just sat there and said "meh, whatever," then I'd be upset. As I was writing those last chapters, I was hoping I could put you on an emotional rollercoaster and shake the everliving crap out of you, and I think it worked. To me, writing the words in Google Docs was completely secondary to watching you react.
Be angry. It makes me happy.
Now on to the final news: two announcements.
First, Polarity will be coming out in a print book on May 1, 2011. Also eBook. But print book sounds fancier. It will be fully revised, heavily edited, and I think be a super-sharp piece of writing. I was originally thinking April 1, but I have Arkady and Kain, Fission Chips, and Clockhopper to do between now and then, and I don't want to over-extend myself.
The second bit of news is this: book 3 of the Dustrunners saga will be livewritten in Fall 2011. If you plan that far ahead, I'd prepare for probably mid-to-late October. Three days. No sleep. And lots of twists.
Thank you all for playing along again. I know it's a big imposition on your lives (and sleep schedules), but having you there really makes it SO much better.
Let's do it again sometime.
Like, hmm... soon, maybe?