|Archeology for Beginners
||[Mar. 8th, 2014|01:14 am]
David R Williams
I wrote a first-draft novel when I was nineteen, all the way back in 2002. I started reading it again this week, having not read it for about eight or nine years at this point. It had kind of fermented in my brain: every time I thought about it, I remembered it being worse and worse.|
Honestly, the good bits aren't as good as I remember and the bad bits aren't as bad as I remember. It's the product of a very different mind than my mind as it is now; my political, social, and moral viewpoints have all shifted in the intervening years. There are bits where I'm sort of slamming the reader over the head with the point I'm trying to make, which ends up being this odd sort of apology for the story's existence.
It's pretty plain to me, reading it now, that I didn't have a plot in mind when I started. I had a set-up, and then I planned a chapter at a time. It's why there's all sorts of little misfires: plot points that don't go anywhere, weird swerves in the story, all that jazz. Characters show up and get a lot of exposition and then suddenly vanish with two lines of explanation, either because they were no longer relevant or I just got sick of writing them.
The jokes that I put in there mostly hang together fairly well, apart from pop culture references which are now hideously dated and often aren't as throwaway as they should be, so missing a reference means you can no longer follow the plot.
Mostly, though, I'm less interested in re-reading it for the story I wrote or the language I used and more interested in getting an idea of how my mind worked at the time. You tend to forget that you used to hold wildly different views about, say, gender, or homosexuality, or even swearing. It's jarring to read something that you would find reprehensible now and trying to reconcile the idea that you wrote that in all earnest at the time.
The other thing is just how little I understood about people. There are a lot of points where the characters behave in a way that doesn't make any sense from a logical standpoint, and because they're either behaving oddly to suit the plot or because they're revolving around making the lead character the centre of the universe, it really drags you out of the story. If it was a movie, you would shout at the people on the screen to just punch him in the head or throw him out, but the lead character spends a long time crashing around like a violent, misogynist, bigot and the supporting cast all keep putting up with it.
I also had no idea what research was. There are numerous places where basic fact-checking would have made me change something, and reading it now I'm pulling errors out everywhere just by the virtue of having an extra dozen years of experience and knowledge in my head.
I'll finish reading it in a day or two (it's 104,000 words, but the writing is uncomplicated and the subject matter not very dense, so it's a breezy read) and then I'm not really sure what I do with it after that. Originally I kind of had this fantasy that I'd discover it wasn't too shabby and could be brought into a decent shape pretty quickly. But it's impossible to rewrite. So much would have to be changed - major events, entire personalities of characters, backstories - that there are dozens of points it could diverge out and become a host of different kinds of stories. It commits a cardinal sin of just not being an interesting story, and has the Twilight problem of focusing on one of the least interesting characters. The supporting cast all have these interesting little hints about them that never get developed, while the revelations about the main character never really make any sense.
Still. I guess, if nothing else, this is sort of like reading old diaries: there's no literal description of what was going on in my life, but emotionally I'm seeing various things that were occupying my mind at the time. From turns of phrase or pop culture references or styles of certain passages I can tell what media I was consuming at the time. I feel like an archeologist digging through my own past, trying to excavate someone who I used to be.