My Origin Story Part 7: Another Novel, More Lessons Learned (Sort of)

Previously on My Origin Story: I worked on a style of writing and won an award.

During the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I started my second novel. In Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, a novel about reincarnation, there was a wild Scottish clan that lived on the Border between warring nations. The Borderlords constantly defended the kingdom from, I think, Catholic incursions. They were minor characters, but the whole idea snagged me. ‘Borderlords’ was born.

My Borderlords were the Devos, who guarded the border of a planet, Yor, from attack by an enemy planet, Ori. (My friend Liz tactfully pointed out if I was going to create fantasy worlds, I would really have to work on my place names.) Cantess Devo is the daughter of a heroic warlord. For some reason that the author lazily didn’t bother to work out, the Orins could only attack from outer space at the exact place where the Devos guarded the Border. For some equally fuzzy reason, they sent only enough troops to kill a few Devos and give the Yorites plenty of time to mount a counter-attack. The hero, Ariah Iso, hates the Devos, like whoa, because of some childhood trauma involving his brother or something. Blah blah blah plot contrivance so the romantic partners had a reason for conflict.

I wrote all that summer and through much of 10th grade, filling seven notebooks, about 400 pages, with the story of the preparations for battle. Interspersed throughout the pages are notes from my mother to the school excusing my absences:

11-19-79, Please excuse my daughter for being absent last Tues, Wed, Thurs and Fri.

No explanation was given. (What? I stayed up all night writing. School started at, like, dawn. What was a budding high school novelist to do? Ori, stupid name or not, was so much better of a place to hang out than high school.)

My world-building was spotty.  Random-sounding names; Kievuu, Sebei, Dachtava. Some had numbers for last names, most didn’t–no explanation was given. Place names were equally random and were basically words I liked the sound of–Bat-Hel Lake, the city of Yab, the Mawkee, who suffered from that curious literary tic of their tribal name being the same as the name of their region. I started off spending a lot of time creating the various provinces and setting up the politics and conflicts of the world, but as usual with my early writing, the novel degenerates into scenes I found fun to write. Adolescence reared its ugly head as I turned sixteen and I pretty much gave up on all the parts of the story that weren’t horny. Forget world-building, scene-building or plot. Ariah and Cantess had to have another tension-filled make-out scene in their sweet/savage love affair. (Light on the sweet, heavy on the savage; Cantess really needed to get a restraining order.)

What I missed completely was the idea of upping the stakes for each conflict.  The couple have the exact same fight over and over again with almost no character growth, resolution or catharsis.  Since I was only writing for myself, I didn’t bother to learn deep structure.

What I did learn:

To spend more time on “gathering,” the term I used for preparation.  Research, world-building, character bios, notes on the plot, etc.  That way, when you hit The Swamp, you’ll be prepared.  The Swamp was my word for when you’re more than halfway through the story but not at the climactic events yet.  It’s where you get bogged down if you haven’t done enough planning.  The Swamp did me in on Borderlords, probably because I just wasn’t interested enough in my own world, or at least not the hard parts of creating it.

The more immediate lesson: Write in Greenpeace notebooks so you can write during class and not get busted.

Next up on My Origin Story: Part 8, the Obligatory Post-Apocalyptic Novel

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6 Responses to My Origin Story Part 7: Another Novel, More Lessons Learned (Sort of)

  1. Siobhan says:

    Borderlords! Wow!
    Glad to hear I was tactful and not scathing.
    I remember a couple of these notebook covers! Also, now that my memory is jogged, some of the novel you let me read. Thank you. I’ve always been impressed by your ability to spin a yarn, and to do the hard work of writing it all down.


  2. From some of the very early stuff you’ve shown, I’m sure you’re being too hard on yourself. But with that being said, it seems you learned a tremendous amount from Borderlords. I literally laughed-out-loud reading your journey into hormones as a writer and how the story turned into a “horny”, “savage” love fest.

    It sounds like your mother really has stood behind your dream, which is why you’re probably so determined and focused, not to mention talented and skilled at what you do.

    I also admire your dedication as a writer and the memory you have of your remarkable journey. It’s only a matter of time before it all pays off. Looking forward to the continuation of your “origin story”.


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Thanks, my friend, I appreciate the kind words and all your support. From your mouth to the universe’s ear, or something. It certainly feels like, after all this time and all this writing, something should come of it. But it’s been fun to go back over all the notebooks and chunks of handwritten pages and see what I was into back then. Glad you’re enjoying it.


  3. Pingback: My Origin Story Part 8: The Obligatory Post-Apocalyptic Novel | Chris Devlin's Blog

  4. Pingback: My Origin Story Part 9: My Irish Novel | Chris Devlin's Blog

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