I’ve been working on “Chrysalis,” though forgetting to meter my progress, and I hate the fact that it’s a bad draft.
Other writers have experienced this before. You have to get what’s in your head out on the page, however broken it may be, before you can make it better; you can’t fix it in your head, so that the draft is better on the first try. In the case of this story, the twin challenges of researching setting details and making the covert structure come out right have pretty much crowded all other considerations from my mind. Prose? Is whatever words will pin the narrative down enough for the time being. Actual artistry need not apply, not yet. Same goes for characterization. And description. And all those other nice things that make the story not suck.
The problem is that I’m an idiot for writing this story right now. The sum total of fiction that exists in this setting at present is: “A Mask of Flesh,” four-fifths of a draft of “Chrysalis,” and 1070 words of a so-far-plotless story about Tlacuilo. And it’s a complicated setting, where nobody is human and all the castes are different kinds of creatures and oh yeah Mesoamerica isn’t exactly familiar material for most readers. So what in the name of all that is sensible am I doing writing a story that has to blitz through five different castes in (ideally) less than six thousand words? What am I doing dropping a xera motherfather into the middle of it, when I haven’t ever mentioned the motherfather thing before and it’s extra complicated with the xera because of that thing where they can be either male or female? How am I supposed to make this work when the back half of the story is trying to grow a political context to justify what Matzoloa’s doing and why? Just when do I think I’m going to explain that political context?
All that, and a philosophical lesson, too.
This is the kind of story that works best when you’ve got a dozen other pieces out there that establish all the different bits of the setting, so maybe you can get away with just presenting those bits in passing and hoping your readers remember enough to fill it in. It is not the kind of story you want to write when 95% of the material is new even to readers who read “A Mask of Flesh” five minutes ago, and 3% of the remainder isn’t like they expect because not all xera are crazy like Neniza was.
Yeah, I know, whine whine whine. Tonight I’ll make myself figure out what Matzoloa is doing, and then I’ll write her scene, and then I’ll have my bad draft. Then I can go away to VeriCon and let it compost, and when I come back I’ll decide whether I can polish it enough to inflict on my crit croup, or whether it needs to sit for six months while I do something else with my life.
Blerg. I’m going to go read The Three Musketeers.