(You know… Tulio and Miguel, the two ne’er-do-well adventurers from the entertaining 2000 DreamWorks film The Road to El Dorado. At one point, Miguel, the more --- ahem --- free-spirited, spontaneous member of the duo, has just gotten them in (another) pickle. He looks sheepishly at Tulio and says, “Don’t blame me.” Whereupon Tulio, without missing a beat, stabs an accusing finger at Miguel and hisses, “I blame you.”)
Let me back up a little and warn that today’s epistle takes, of necessity, a slightly roundabout route to get to its intended point i.e. the addition to an already completed work. But we’ll get there, I promise… just bear with me. Though I’m not really apologizing, because, well… to paraphrase Lionel Logue in another entertaining film (The King’s Speech) … my blog, my rules.
So there I was in my writing atelier the other day, glumly surveying the 13,000 words of my latest project, and fancied I could sense Areellan behind me, sheepishly pleading, “don’t blame me.” You can probably guess my response.
Backing up some more, she’s the protagonist of a novel (with the accurate if not exactly on-fire working title of Areellan’s Tale) which I finished the 53rd draft of three months ago. (Leastways, it felt like the 53rd draft, he muttered defensively.) Now, I have to say I actually like Areellan a lot. She’s a feisty, takes-no-crap, calls-‘em-like-she-sees-‘em 19-year-old who ploughs effectively through the slings and arrows of Arrinor, my fantasy world, in her quest for truth, justice, and the Arrinoran way. In this mortal and rather drab world of ours, she also elbowed her way past my other Arrinoran protagonist, Rhissan Araxis, whose story was told in my 2015 novel Gryphon’s Heir and whose sequel was nigh to being finished… when Areellan showed up, demanding her tale be told right away. Rhiss, gentleman that he is, graciously acceded to her impolite demand.
(It's at this point non-writers --- and likely psychiatrists --- eye me with some alarm and ask why I’m treating fictional characters as though they’re ‘real.’ To which I, and every other writer ever, laugh heartily and reply simply, “Well, because they are, of course.” Bwahahaha! No, we’re not crazy. Why do you ask?)
All in all, I’m pretty pleased with Areellan’s Tale, and that’s where blaming Areellan comes in, because the writing in her tale is, false modesty be damned, pretty good, I think… and it happens to pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours… and coincidentally puts the eight-years-past writing of Gryphon’s Heir to shame, in my fussy opinion. So what’s a writer to do with a work that’s no longer state of the art? Why… revise it, of course. Maybe create a second edition, for which, by the way, the rules seem to be rather vague --- I’ve checked. Mostly they seem to stress just needing a goodly amount (my nebulous term) of new content, not merely proofreading/editing the existing version. Don’t ask how much ‘goodly’ is, because no sources I consulted seemed to know. But… yeah, make it goodly.
So. Earlier this year, I began by going through Gryphon’s Heir and cutting over 11,000 words --- no plot, just extraneous words I swear I thought I’d excised lo, all those years ago. Turns out present-day me finds eight-years-ago me unnecessarily verbose, even worthy of an eye-roll or six. Which, I hasten to add, isn’t a bad thing… I mean, if I haven’t improved my craft in eight years, maybe I should just shut down my brand-new laptop and go find some mindless gig-economy job somewhere.
Then I (ta da!) finally turned my attention to the DLC.
DLC is actually a videogame term. (Yes, Virginia, your author plays videogames. Unsurprisingly, he likes ones featuring engaging storylines with strongly effective female protagonists.) It stands for DownLoadable Content, which at first glance, appears a tad nonsensical, but, again, bear with me. When a videogame company puts out a new title, it often, if the game sells well, publishes an addition to that game a year or so later, referred to as DLC. It generates new interest in the game, and not coincidentally, generates more money for the publisher, because they don’t give DLC away, heavens no! My experience with DLC is it adds an entertaining new side story to the main tale without affecting the overall plotline arc. It’s an add-on, not a replacement… so that’s what I went hunting for in Gryphon’s Heir. I had 11,000 words of room to write, which I naively thought was plenty. (Kind of like when I got my first Macintosh computer, several eons ago, and learned it possessed a 40-megabyte hard drive. 40 meg! I thought incredulously at the time. What was I ever going to do with all that space?! Ah, the sweet innocence of youth. My aforementioned new laptop needs more than 40 meg just to sneeze.)
What I needed to do, I decided, was come up with a DLC for Gryphon’s Heir: an entertaining side-story… an absorbing rabbit-hole protagonist Rhiss could just disappear down into for a few thousand words, than pop up again, older and wiser, to resume the main storyline. And it took a while, but I did find the ideal entry point for such a DLC.
Problem is, the DLC has become a veritable Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, whiffling through the tulgey wood. And it’s growing… I passed that 11,000-word self-imposed limit a couple of thousand words ago, and we’re galloping through the DLC at breakneck speeds towards a still-unknown climax which doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. (Rhiss hasn’t bothered to inform me what that is just yet --- when I began writing, I tried being a plotter, honest I did, but my characters kept laughing at my outlines and plot summaries and insisted on doing their own thing, so I gave up. Nowadays, I just let them tell me what to do. Non-writers, stop edging away from me with that carefully blank expression.) As a matter of fact, events seem to be getting messier and messier, Rhiss is in more and more trouble, and I understand viscerally what Tolkien meant when he said, “this tale grew in the telling.”
Well… having come this far… and even though all sorts of potential side plots keep manifesting… we must plug onwards. In the meantime… Dammit, Rhiss! No! That man is trying to kill you! Get back!
Sigh. It’s like herding cats.