Though more work remains on putting Far to the North into a finalized state (cover, book blurb, formatting, uploading, etc), the novel itself, from a writing perspective, is done. The manuscript is with a line editor who is destroying typos with ruthless vigor. A few close friends have read the latest revision and provided their feedback. With the creative process complete, I’ve found myself reflecting on what went well and what didn’t, so I figured I’d share some perspective on my process.
Overall, though this book obviously has flaws, I’m happy with the final result. When I started this story, I had specific goals in mind. I wanted to tell a story that started and ended within the cover. No sequels, prequels, etc. I wanted to keep a pace that made me happy as a reader, a pace that didn’t drag on for the sake of dragging on (like this sentence here). I wanted characters that were enjoyable and made decisions that made sense within a horror story instead of scrambling about like headless chickens. I wanted a fantasy world that offered some intrigue while also allowing further growth. And, of course, I wanted something that was scary.
So, how did it go? Did I reach those goals?
Though subjective, the answer looks to be yes and no.
The biggest ‘no’ comes from my very poor effort in character and world building before starting on the novel itself, specifically with the characters. As you read, you’ll notice both a lack of their description and a narrow variety of traits and behaviors. There are two reasons for this. First, much of the character creation happened during the writing process itself and not beforehand. The second reason directly relates to the first; when starting this project, my goal was to finish. You can only finish if you start, and you can only start if you stop dicking around with things like character creation and world building and put words on the page. If you poke around long enough, you’ll find a lot of disagreement online over how much time you should spend creating a world and characters before moving into the writing phase. Some say you should nail down every last detail while others say those aspects of writing are more useful for procrastinating than getting work done. The solution is to find the correct answer for yourself. In Far to the North, I’ve found I did not do enough work beforehand, and my character description and how they interact suffers because of it.
This isn’t an attempt at self-pity or anything of the sort. Just my observation so that I can learn and improve when creating the next book.
The biggest ‘yes’ (for me) comes from the pace of the story and how events develop. Again, reading is subjective, but I’m happy with how this story flows. Where character description may be lacking, I feel there is good movement forward. You’re either learning more about the characters or an event is unfolding. The plot advances at a regular basis. Even though I’ve read this book several times during its creation, I’ve never found myself reading through a chapter that feels like dead weight. That’s a good thing.
Another ‘yes’ for me is the world/setting itself. When creating the world, I used the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1860’s as my baseline. I like that kind of terrain and technology. I like that the world itself is a threat to characters and its own challenge to be overcome. Man is not the keeper of his own destiny in that kind of setting. There are also western elements with the types of weaponry I’ve chosen, and I sprinkled in some fantasy themes with the use of alchemy and a tiny portion of magic. I’ll continue to build within that world as I start on the next book (something I’m actively considering now).
But the real question: Is it scary?
That’s the nitty-gritty of a horror novel, and different readers have had different opinions. One of my readers, a person whose opinion I value quite highly because her’s is a higher bar to clear, did not find it scary. Unfortunate feedback, but so be it. She felt the monster was made to be too well known to the reader and that knowledge had a ruining effect on the suspense that usually comes with a horror novel. Though I disagree with the suspense being ruined, I agree with her critique. My hope was that some amount of suspense would come from concern for the characters, but for her, that didn’t happen. However, other readers, the ones I consider to be the “scaredy-cats” of the bunch, did find it scary. But they aren’t avid readers of horror, so it’s harder to assess how frightening the story actually is. Welcome to the joys of subjectivity, folks.
So, looking forward, what now?
First of all, I continue with releasing the book. Prior to Far to the North, I wrote a dystopian novella and roughly 50% of a novel based around a ghost story. I did nothing with the novella because I didn’t feel like the writing was there, and I quit on the ghost story because the setting was too modern day and left me feeling strangled by a lack of creative freedom. Far to the North is my third project, and it is now time to complete a project. The novel isn’t perfect, and it never will be. That’s okay. It’s my first novel. I’ve learned from it, and I’ll improve on the next one by learning from the mistakes I’ve made in my process (where we are now).
What I can say about novel number two?
Not a lot of decisions have been made on that front, but I can say it will take place within the same world. Far to the North introduces a lot of creative possibilities, so I’ll continue to expand on those. The next story will also have nothing to do with the events that happen within Far to the North. At most, there may be a line of dialogue that makes a general reference to the characters or what happened to them. That means new characters, new locations, new everything. And why? To correct what I feel is the biggest failure in my process: lack of character and world building during my creative phase. I’m comfortable with my voice, my dialogue, my ability to move plot and develop characters. Now it’s time to strengthen those abilities by having a concrete foundation to write from rather than learning my own characters and plot quasi on-the-fly.
As for the rest of life, my world is just as upside-down as everyone else’s. I’m quite fortunate in that I’m still working and still being paid, and my immediate family gets along very well. We’re all healthy and safe and quite ready for this shutdown to be over with. To anyone out there that may be reading this, I hope you’re just as well or even better. Stay safe. Be smart. Mark deliberate decisions.
More updates as they come.