I’ve been attempting to write a novel in my head for a few months now. Unsurprisingly, it’s not going anywhere in a hurry; I must admit that the more I try and pin it down the more it slips away from me. The current state of it seems like an ugly conflation of dubiously interlinked scenes and concepts as opposed to anything that would kindly be referred to as a plot or character arc. From a potential reader’s perspective, this is probably not the best thing in the world. I am self-critical of my work and don’t particularly want to write a bad or out-of-place word, but also know that at some point I need to move from the conceptual stage to something a little firmer – and that by starting to write something, anything, I will probably start to firm up some of the concepts in the process. Keeping it in my head has been a nice bit of defence; if I don’t expose it to the elements, this brittle little tale can seem stable, well-rooted and appealing.
I suppose what I’m struggling with then is what I want to write, what I think I can write, and what I believe people actually want to read. Sure, there’s a market out there for anything, but making something deliberately obscure seems like a daft notion. And the subject matter I have is pretty wide-ranging; a steampunk-tinged alternative-history Russia of the 1930s involving the politics of the Trans-Manchurian railway, Czarist loyalists, clockwork spies, the puppet emperor of Manchukuo and a peasant’s rebellion in Vladivostok led by radioactive golems.
This story is, I must advise, at least partially made up.
[For anyone wondering, I have somehow avoided adding Rasputin to the mix even though he apparently appears in anything kooky involving early-twentieth century Russia (not to mention 70s disco hits; a fitting epitaph).]
Re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m actually a little excited; it’s a bizarre list of things to throw into a story, but at least it sounds interesting. The issue is the lack of any real protagonist. I’ve got some ideas there, thankfully, but whenever I advance too far along I realise that I’m letting the mix of Interesting Stuff dictate the movement of the story, as opposed to letting the character come first. I think that’s a nut I can only crack if I actually get down to the messy business of putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), so wish me luck.