Revisiting NanoWriMo: Reading an Unplanned First Draft

This year, I completed the first draft of a novel for National Novel Write Month, a writing exercise during which participants must complete a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November. After three weeks distance from finishing the manuscript, I decided it was time to read it and see just how bad it is. I am happy to report that it is not nearly as awful and unreadable as I thought it was…or maybe I’m just too in love with my own writing (I am guessing it is the latter, for sure).

As promised, I have completed the below reaction. You will note that my arrogance and narcissism find their way into my remarks, but I try to be fair overall. My response is similar to the type I would have provided while doing script coverage out west. We’ll see if I can be as honest with myself as I was with other authors whose works I deconstructed.

The Traveler’s Tales: Abinthor (tentatively titled) may be one of the strangest reading experiences I have encountered in some time. While the story begins in a relatively believable way despite its fantasy setting, the narrative derails under the weight of its own rather convoluted plot and the unclear themes it is explores. A certain lyrical quality resides in the language of the text, but it is overshadowed by the storytelling issues.

The tale opens with a strange but interesting event that is left unresolved and provides the reader with something of a false hope. While this initial, attention-grabbing event feels like a short story, the rest of the tale is far more broad and over-reaching, lacking the intimacy that the format of the novel inherently allows. This creates a sense of ongoing disappointment, in that the reader wants the story to return to something more akin to its opening while in actuality the tale gets larger and more cumbersome.

The bulk of the first third of the book is spent with character introductions and a long timeline that does not seem to make a great deal of sense. This structure provides the reader with a cast of players that are clearly interconnected though each is also engaged in his/her own subplot. When the central protagonist emerges, he seems an odd choice given all the other players that the reader is asked to follow. This is not a good development.

The second and third portions of the story reinforce this unfocused protagonist issue, but in a strange way this works in some respects, particularly when one is able to complete the novel and get a contextualized picture of why it is written the way that it is. Whether this brushstroke at the end was deliberate or an eleventh hour addition is uncertain, but it lends itself to making the story’s design acceptable (and actually somewhat more interesting).

That being said, however, the narrative does need to be refined and focused, and at least one chapter (the last one) will need a complete overhaul. In the current draft, the reader gets the feeling of unprepared hurriedness in the story’s presentation. For example, as already mentioned, the events of the first chapter feel wholly different than the rest of the text, as though the author had one clear idea in the beginning–to get his protagonist on the “road of adventure”–then completely abandoned his initial plan for other ideas and free-associative concepts floating around in his mind. Additionally, the timeline is entirely skewed by the last third of the text, wherein everyone’s ages are arbitrarily close despite this being a multi-generational tale. As this is a first draft written in a shotgun-style, a plethora of errors are present on every page, not the least of which is a change in the spelling of several character names, which causes a great deal of confusion. Finally, the author mentions a great number of creatures and people groups without providing any context to the reader, forcing on the audience a requirement to create their own ideas of an item without any context beyond the phonetic nature of the names/terms provided.

Despite these necessary corrections, however, the novel has a certain strength in its language. The text bears a lyrical quality in its structure, tone and voice, as though it is written with a love for the melodic nature of refined speech, even if it sometimes veers into more common vernacular when a more fitting, well-chosen phrase would be more appropriate. Frankly, this rather specific voice will prove to be the work’s greatest blessing and curse. Those who find the the style stimulating will likely overlook other possible story-telling sins; but those who do not care for the writer’s pace and manner will see through every plot-hole and also abhor the process of reading the work given its cumbersome nature.

Overall, the first draft of The Traveler’s Tales: Abinthor is readable despite its free-associative, unplanned presentation; but before it is legible for anyone beyond the author, the text will need more than a polish.