I went tubing in the Delaware a couple of summers back, and in a couple of shallow spots I tried to put my feet down. I got dragged, and I had to work hard not to get my feet scraped by the pebbles. But I was able to change my experience doing that, despite the force of the current. And if I pulled up my feet and sculled with my hands, or grabbed passing branches, I could affect where I went and how fast. It was a pleasant (and sometimes boring) experience, sunny and placid, sometimes a little scary when I realized I was in a wilderness and I didn’t know what was underneath me. I didn’t know what it would be like when I got to the conclusion, but I also knew it was a thing that people do without thinking twice; in fact I had gotten upriver to my launching point in a full bus with a lot of other people who were doing the same thing I was.
I’m revising a novel right now. I work a little bit every day, rewriting some of it completely, using some of the chunks without changing them, and adding new material. It feels a little bit the same as tubing. People do this, I reassure myself. They put themselves in this situation, and even if I don’t know how it’s going to end I can float a little bit, paddle a little bit, and sometimes put my feet down and get dragged across the pebbles. Sometimes it seems uneventful. Other times just a tiny bit scary.
The etymology of revision is, as the word indicates, to re-see; but if I’m re-seeing, I’m doing it like a tourist on a self-guided tour, on foot, with no guide book and not knowing the language, even if I was here before once.
There was always a third book in the trilogy. I know how it goes in the broad sketch, have known for a long time. The goal was always (if only as a gesture) to wrap up the galactic space opera that was the backdrop of the first two. To straighten out the self-destructive bargain that the human race had made with magical thinking. To take on the sweeping, impossibly big picture. And to do it as I began, with a protagonist who, despite some abilities and some decided opinions, is very much not equipped to make any difference whatsoever.
That’s always the premise of big fantasy, isn’t it? To take on the impossible. And it’s ultimately not all that important to save the universe, it’s just the expectation. It’s something you have to keep doing over and over, like doing the laundry or running the dishwasher. It’s Friday, ergo yet another protagonist has to save the world, or the galaxy, or the universe.
I knew the very rough structure. All three books must tell stories of young women with power who have, eventually to use it, in spite of being young women. The prototypical princess-in-disguise.
The first book’s character had no compunctions about using power in a setting that was novel to her, where she was not supposed to be using it. The second book’s character was sure using her power would destroy her, and she was running from that possibility. And the third book’s character, I knew from the beginning, should be convinced she had no power. She should be a fairy tale Princess, surrounded and trapped–and not only trapped, but much less powerful in some ways than any of her subjects.
At first, years ago, I tried to make her speechless, but it’s too hard to write a character who doesn’t talk while still getting a plot to move. Then I tried to make sure she had no magical abilities whatsoever, but that isn’t playing fair with the genre so it wasn’t as appealing. Still, I knew that the lack of power should somehow be the point.
I made a number of attempts at a draft, but as I’ve said before, life kept intervening. Finally, last November, I decided to use NaNoWriMo to force me to write the thing. It is, as drafts are, a terrible botch. And now, because I’m waiting for my rights to the previous two novels to revert to me, I’m working on revision.
And I’m not reading ahead. I forget how I made it come out. I’m floating down a river of text, re-seeing what I wrote and changing it as I go.
The lack of power is the point,. But you launch yourself into the river. You keep paddling nonetheless. And you enjoy the sun, and the pretty scenery, and sometimes you put your feet down when you’re floating over something, and you hope nothing bites you.