M4 Commentary: Retrospective on the First Half

In M4. The Twist Akayama’s escape plan goes awry. The Hurricane refuses to be brought to earth, and instead transmits its consciousness into Akayama’s body. It forces her to leap from her spaceship mid-launch, and she only survives the fall because the Hurricane warps her biology to grow feathers.

M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, which means in terms of chapter names, we’re halfway through the book. Seems like a good chance to reflect.

Like it says in the sidebar (at the bottom for mobile users), this website is a living document. I’m more or less using the site to host the second draft of a novel while I write it, under the guise of a weekly web-series. Eventually I hope to clean up the text and see if I can get it published for realsies, or self-publish it on Amazon, or something. (Many publishers won’t consider anything previously posted online, but I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.)

The first half definitely needs cleaning up. I included everything I wanted to write about, but I still need to make it good. For one thing, basically anything involving Dan needs to be condensed. I’ll bet I can trim his drunken whining down from eight thousand words to, say, two thousand. There’s like four pages of philosophical blathering, but I should trust my readers to get gist of Akayama DanJay from its content instead of spelling it out; maybe I’ll reduce Dan’s philosophizing to a paragraph which hits all the major points, or maybe I’ll cut it out entirely.

Dan’s kiss with Beatrice needs work. In fact Beatrice could use work as a character altogether, as she mostly does whatever I want her to do, except I don’t entirely know what I want her to do. I like the idea of a love triangle between Dan, Beatrice, and Faith referencing Dante Alighieri’s fruitless obsession with Beatrice Portinari, but it’s not interesting enough to warrant the space it takes up. I don’t want to make huge changes until I’m more confident about what those changes should be, but here’s my current take: Beatrice shouldn’t kiss Dan just because she secretly likes him, Beatrice should kiss Dan because Dan is a pitiful dweeb and she thinks it will make him leave her alone. Once Dan’s been kissed, he has to face the fact that his depression isn’t the result of a lack of romance. His depression is an internal affair.

I like Jay, I like Faith. I’ll surely alter their characters as I finalize the text, but I think they’ll need less fixing up than Dan and Beatrice.

Leo (who sometimes calls himself Henry) needs to be straightened out. I’m not sure exactly what kind of asshole he is, only that he’s an asshole. Despite the swastika he tattooed on his chest I don’t intend him to be a Nazi or a Neo-Nazi (even if Neo-Nazis overlap with what Leo is meant to reflect). He’s not an emblem for Hitler, or the GOP, or Trump, or anything cheesy like that.

Leo’s defining characteristics, as he stands now, are a lack of self-awareness and a self-defeating notion of freedom. He’s the kind of edgy 14-year-old who shouts “heil Hitler” and giggles when people glare or roll their eyes, and if anyone tells him off he’ll claim they’re censoring his free speech (never-mind that the people telling him off have the freedom to tell him off). He’s brazen enough to tattoo a swastika on his chest, but he only has the confidence to show it to Dan because Dan was reading a book with swastikas on the cover in a religious context. When Dan calls him an ass-hat Leo folds his arms over his chest not in aggression, but in embarrassment.

In the next draft, I want to emphasize this aspect of his character. When he says he wants to kill gay people, maybe he means it or maybe it’s his idea of a dumb joke, but either way he’ll be astounded that others view him as a homophobe. He could march in a white-nationalist parade and be shocked that people call him racist.

The reason I write these commentaries is because when you read a published book you don’t get to see the process behind it, and you might accidentally get the impression that the writer wrote it that way on purpose, first try. In my experience there’s a lot of bumbling along the way to a finished work, because writing is just bumbling words together until you find the right ones in an acceptable order. Sure I wrote Leo as a 2D caricature of a human being, but now that I’ve done so, I can read intent into his actions and use my new understanding to help write future drafts.

The last big note I have on the first half is the slow pace. We’ve already covered condensing the slower chapters, which will help the plot plod along, but next week we’ll cover possible changes to the structure of the plot itself.

Anyway, you might be expecting Jay to wake up now that the chapter is over. He’s already experienced, what, twenty years here? And the chapter ends with a huge reveal: Akayama grows blue feathers and her lab coat is sky-blue, so she probably looks a lot like the Heart of the Mountain, the Biggest Bird.

But Jay’s hallucination has just begun. See you next week.

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