On Writing the Next Project

Well, I finished the first draft of my next project, so that means another blog where I ramble about writing. I can’t promise this will get pretentious, but I’ll do my best. It’s all about being consistent, after all.

Amp is shaping up into a nice-sized novella, currently measuring 92 pages and a bit over 28k words. It’s the second-longest thing I’ve written, though it feels pretty small in comparison to The Ninth Life which is over a 100k words longer. That’s the nature of novels, I guess. By the way, The Ninth Life is in the process of finding an agent. That’s been a chore, but at least I knew it would be. I’m about as hopeful as I can get, which means I figure I’ll self publish it a year from now for $4.99 once all the rejection letters pile up.

I’ve always been a fan of horror, and for some reason, I always want to write horror. Even The Ninth Life has touches of the genre, though it’s a fantasy affair through and through. Amp though, Amp is a stab at scary.

The story follows Sam Tomarock, a 17 year old high school girl. She lives in Iowa, near Sioux City where it’s actually hilly, and she’s fairly typical as far as high school girls are concerned. She plays the drums and is quite good at it, and she thinks her parents are strange. She hopes to one day join or start a band with an online friend, and together they have big dreams of making awesome rock music.

One snowy Monday morning, she wakes up to a day off, the roads being too dangerous to drive busses on. Sam forms plans for a great day off, bumming around and generally being unproductive, when Amp shows up. He appears out of nowhere on her deck, a rather large and imposing monster, though not exactly mold-breaking in appearance. He’s big and scaly with large teeth and claws.

What makes Amp different is his agency. Most monsters that look like him try to maim and eat and kill, but Amp attempts speech before he completely vanishes. Sam is left wondering what the hell just happened and if Amp was part of her imagination.

That becomes the central question throughout the story: Is Amp real or is Sam losing her mind?

Sam runs into Amp quite a few times, and soon she begins to experience some strange dreams and slightly paranormal events, but almost all of them can be explained away. She becomes jittery and stressed out, and each time Amp shows up—scary but not too threatening—she wonders what’s going on around her. Eventually, she begins to wonder what Amp wants to tell her.

Here’s the thing about the first draft of Amp: It’s a mess. I know it’s a mess, and I’ve known it’s been a mess since about the fourth day of writing. This thing has fought me every step of the way, and that’s got me stressed out if I’m being perfectly honest. Writing The Ninth Life had been pure joy for the 100 or so days it took to finish, and it was only in editing that I began to realize how broken and in need of work the story was.

Amp has felt broken and in need of work since the beginning.

The fear is that no story will ever be as fun to write as the big first one. That, honestly, makes me pretty sad.

But maybe not. Amp is a very different kind of story, and it’s told very differently. I wrote The Ninth Life without any plans or outlines, but I’ve had the complete structure of Amp down for a few years now. I actually thought up the narrative in my junior year of college, which was 2010. For five years this story has been rollin’ around my noggin, and now it’s out on paper and not as good as I thought it would be.

That’s the nature of writing though. Everyone will tell you that. Words are just better in your head.

It sucks though, regardless of nature or nurture.

Since Amp is a novella, it also isn’t allowed the room to meander or breathe like a novel. Page space is limited and has to be used efficiently. That’s just how these go, or so I’ve been led to believe. I’ve been stressing over every little passage, wondering what to cut, all while in the middle of writing! It’s a bad thing, to go, “I’ll probably take this out” right after you finish a paragraph. It makes writing the next paragraph very difficult.

In that sense, Amp fought me every step of the way. My goal has always been fairly small: Write two pages a day. Boom. Done. That’s not very many pages, but that makes it the perfect goal. It’s attainable. Amp wasn’t so nice though. I started off doing two pages a day, but quickly I was having problems completing one. I even took days off, which made me feel all sorts of lazy and wretched. There were computer problems and real life distractions, and it honestly felt like the world was against me here.

Which is really narcissistic, but I’m a writer I guess, so there you go.

The third thing that sets Amp apart from anything I’ve ever written is its plot structure. I wanted to mimic Hamlet, to loosely follow my favorite Shakespeare play. Day One is like Act One. Hamlet sees a ghost, and Sam sees Amp. Day Three is like Act Three. Hamlet goes and visits a play while Sam writes an essay. It’s loose sure, but it’s there. But even in being a loose adaptation of Hamlet’s five-act self, I was constrained to what I could and couldn’t do.

This means that sometimes the story wanted to go one way while I wanted it to go another. I worry that it won’t feel organic when all is said and done, though since a lot of authors prefer to outline their stories before they write them, that’s probably a baseless worry. We as readers like to think the big twists and turns were thought far in advance, though that’s not always the case. With Amp, it is the case, but I’m not sure I like it.

I prefer not to write in the real world, though a lot of my bubbling ideas take place there. It’s hard to do something strange and paranormal when constraints of Earth exist. Magic can exist in where Kit lives because he’s a talking cat; space ships can exist in the future because it’s the future. But Amp takes place in 2006 (write what you know, and I know 2006 because that’s when I went to high school). Certain events and plans had to be worked in very carefully to make sense. Sam gets pretty sick and somehow her parents have to be just worried enough to be intrusive but not worried enough to rush her to the hospital. I’m not sure that aspect has truly been nailed yet.

There will be a lot of fixing in store for Amp, but I do think I can make it all work. I really like Sam as a character, and she’s my first attempt and long-form third-person subjective. She has a nice voice, being a bit snarky but mostly just up-beat and fun. She swears a lot. I like that she thinks she has the world figured out, though she really doesn’t. Then Amp shows up, and everything gets shaken all over.

The goal right now is to not think about this story for a good month, maybe two. I want to let it sit and rot a bit before I go back to it. The problems I think it has now might not feel like problems 90 days from now. I’ll start something else in the meantime, maybe another long form poem. I know The Regret of Vitrerran is still in need of a lot of written work, so maybe I’ll tackle that.

I also have video games to play and more books to read.

But the time will fly, and soon I’ll open this story again. I look forward to making it good enough to share. I’ll probably self publish it for a dollar or two. If I really can’t fix it, I’ll just post it here for free. But I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Sometime before the year is out, I’d like to have a nice collection of short stories and novellas to self publish. I’ve even got a title for that, and honestly, a lot of content already. I need two more stories the size of Amp and one or two little ones yet. Then that’ll be ready to go.

And then I’ll wrote another novel!


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