While typing up a previous post, I referred to the novel trilogy I’ve been working on for going on ten years now as ‘my Ever-Present novel’, and it immediately occurred to me that that would actually make for a pretty good working title for the trilogy. It’s been lacking a working title ever since I ditched the previous one – The Shining Darkness – for having nothing to do with the story at all. (In my defence, it does sound pretty cool.)
This novel has existed in a lot of different forms (and I mean a lot) even only including the ones since I started attempting to put it to paper. The tone, themes and overall focus have swung all over the place. However, I’m fairly sure the most recent draft is a winner. Aside from anything else, it’s currently very nearly at 150,000 words (it might hit 150k tonight, actually), making it by far the longest thing I’ve written to date. It’ll be 170,000 by the time it’s done… and that’s just part one.
What turned out to be the key to success in sustaining a draft for more than a couple of pages (I’ve had one substantial draft before which made it to 50,000 words – again, I got to the end of part one out of three) was doing it completely by accident. A previous draft had started with a short prologue with around a thousand words about each character to provide some backstory, and I found one of them intriguing enough that, just for fun, I thought I’d write an expanded version. Forty thousand words later I had the beginning of a new draft on my hands.
But before I get to that, let’s talk about those other drafts.
The Pre-Written Version
I’m not going to talk about this too much, partly because for various reasons much of it is silly and embarrassing (and involves a lot of borderline-plagiarism) and partly because tracing the development of a story before I attempted to write it down is virtually impossible.
Mostly I bring this up in order to explain that this novel existed for a lonnnng time before I tried to write it down. It may date back to before I started school, though I’m not sure as it’s difficult to date memories before that. Reason being: this one is very closely attached to what’s best referred to as my ‘headspace’, a sort of on-going fantasy kitchen sink story that developed out of the imaginary friends I had when I was very little. (Sometimes I wonder how other people get by without having one of these to turn to when they get bored, to be honest.) Every draft of the Ever-Present novel has been a slimmed-down version of my headspace with the sillier aspects taken out.
The very first little slice of it to exist in written form is a play about some of the characters being abducted by aliens that I wrote (possibly co-wrote with my sister, not sure) to perform in primary school. It never got performed because I neglected to inform any of the teachers that I intended to perform a play. No, I don’t know either.
I have three of these, one of which is virtually identical to the first typed draft, so I’ll leave that for now. There was definitely at least one more. I have a vague idea there was another but I could be wrong for reasons I shall get to in a moment.
The very first draft, and the only one that’s really substantial, is naturally to date the one that’s closes to my headspace version, so I won’t say much because it’s a bit personal and a lot silly. To summarise: a recently-orphaned boy named Leo is mysteriously delivered to a very strange children’s home where all the residents are both a) magical and b) a little bit mad. The most interesting element of it, besides the fact that it’s actually quite long considering how young I was when I wrote it (maybe thirteen?) is the fact that at this stage Leo is for some reason under the impression that magic does not exist. I remember feeling strange about that when I wrote it and I seem to have dropped it very quickly in subsequent drafts.
I dropped that draft because I decided (correctly) that it was too silly and started another draft, which I decided was too serious. This is where things get shaky: I do indeed have a much more serious draft that may be the second one, except it’s written on plain paper, not lined paper, and I have a very strong feeling that the second draft was written on lined, from what I remember of actually writing it. Also, it occurs to me now, looking at the two side by side, that the difference in handwriting is quite pronounced which suggests there was quite a while between the two, and I have a plan that goes with the plain paper draft which has elements in it that I am pretty sure came considerably later. I deduce from this that there was indeed a second draft which I have lost.
The one on plain paper is what I call the ‘Version Version’, because for some reason I decided that each section should be called ‘Version’ something. The first part is called ‘Version Entrance’. Of all the early drafts this one is probably the strongest by a long way, but unfortunately it’s only a page long and Leo doesn’t even get to the children’s home.
There was one final handwritten draft that was so distinctive that I know absolutely for certain that I lost it. I call it the ‘Mrs Robinson draft’ and as I don’t have it I remember it very much through rose-tinted glasses. I suspect it was terrible. I had decided that the story should start with the death of Leo’s parents and tried writing that from the point of view of their next-door neighbour, which was a silly idea; the second part was from the point of view of the wizard who ran the children’s home and gave some background on why he spirited Leo away, which was considerably less silly.
The first typed draft was a major landmark not just for the Ever-Present novel but for my writing generally. At some point I grew sick of telling people I was ‘writing a novel’ and then sheepishly admitting that I only have twelve pages or so and decided to get the damn thing written. For the first time ever I started making myself write a thousand words a day, every day, until it was done, and keeping a proper record of my progress.
As a brief side note, this is the notebook I recorded that progress in:
The records don’t tend to take up much space, so it’s mostly empty. I’m still using it to record my progress. It’s a good feeling. (Also it has Micky Mouse on the front, so.)
At this point I had yet to deviate significantly from the same story: Leo’s parents die (the circumstances of their deaths changefrom draft to draft), he is identified as having magical potential and taken to a specialised children’s home run by a wizard, and hijinks ensue. However, this draft progressed far enough to actually have a plot: increasingly extreme anti-magic feelings are developing in the wider world of the story, until eventually the atmosphere becomes to unsafe that the whole house full of children have to go on the run. The trauma and excitement of this triggers Leo’s latent magic, which turns out to be mindreading and at this stage seeing the future. They start living in a cave system by the sea, run by a fish-man named Archie (no, really) who is a old friend of their housekeeper, but are eventually spotted and ratted out to the authorities (who by this point are quite firmly on the anti-magic side). Things take a swerve for the dark and almost all the characters are killed before they can escape. End part one!
Parts two and three were going to be set at the same time, with events interweaving, but neither ever got off the ground, sadly. The surviving characters got split into two groups at the end of part one, both believing the others to be dead. One gets involved with the formal resistance, the other is more concerned with simply surviving and eventually forms a sort of resistance group of its own.
This is where the big break happened. The next draft I wrote was for NaNoWriMo 2007, and it is completely different. The anti-magic sentiments/oppressive government regime aspects remained, but the setting and characters got moved around.
The children’s home remained part of Leo’s backstory, but for the most part the plot was concerned with him leaving the home to go to a boarding school attached to a magical Temple (the Ellanei Temple – it gets more important later), where he meets the other main characters. I think at this stage I had settled on Annabel, a shape-shifter, Bridget, a healer and novice priestess at the temple, and Samuel, who is very skilled at divination, as the four leads, though I struggled to get Bridget involved with the plot.
This draft is… not good. Not at all. It was my first time doing NaNoWriMo so it’s mostly chaos. The overarching plot was handled very clumsily, though the character stuff isn’t that bad. The general shape of it is going to form book two of the trilogy, when I get there (hopefully soon).
I attempted two more typed drafts before getting to the current one. One mostly consists of the aforementioned prologue with character backstories, then would have progressed to the same sort of material as the NaNoWriMo draft, but it trailed off before then. It largely forms the basis for book one.
The final one got to just shy of ten thousand words and starts with a very introspective homage to the lost ‘Mrs Robinson’ draft; it opens with a prologue concerning an otherwise unrelated character named Julia Robinson being arrested for using magic. At this stage I had decided that the issues I was having were down to not starting when the action did, so this one began much later, with the anti-magic regime already in place, with flashbacks to the important prior events. What I have of it is going to form the basis for book three.
The current draft, therefore, is kind of a synthesis of all the previous drafts. I wrote one sequence – Leo’s discovery of his mindreading – with all the other drafts open in tabs so I could integrate my favourite parts of all of them. So that was fun.
So let’s talk about the current structure of the trilogy.
Part One: Phases of Being
Phases of Being is a very, very expanded version of what was originally just the prologue. It consists of four novellas (each around forty thousand words), one for each of the main characters, detailing their personal histories, setting up their characters, and generally getting them to the place(s) they need to be for part two. It takes them from age ten/eleven/twelve (depending on the character) to sixteen/seventeen. It’s also concerned with setting up the political situation and the declining position of magic. As this one is mostly complete and also quite complicated I’ll make another post just for it.
Part Two: Preliminary Castings
Will open with Samuel, Leo and Annabel arriving at the Temple School and Bridget juggling her new responsibility as school nurse with training to be a proper healer. It will be, in effect, a better executed version of the NaNoWriMo draft, with teenager-antics against a background of increasing social and political turmoil. The primary focus will be on Annabel dealing with her own various social issues and getting to a place where she can form proper relationships.
Personally, I think the title of this one is fairly self-explanatory – it’s setting things up for the third part, getting the characters into their places, etc., plus it’s a reference to Samuel’s rune-casting and the general foreshadowing of events to come.
Part Three: Candlelight
Fun fact: ‘Candlelight’ is the title of part three of the very first typed draft. In the chaos following the military coup that ends the second part, Bridget and Samuel are holed up in the Temple, where a resistance group begins to form, while Annabel and Leo are on the run in the Temple Town trying to survive and help others get to safety.
Of course, none of that is really an adequate summary of this completely ridiculous project. I shall make another post with more detail about Phases of Being, the most concrete part, and hopefully another one at some point about the world-building.
But before then, I’m going to go and hit 150k.