AUTOPSY OF AN EARLY BOOK
Posted on November 1, 2014
I had to put down a novel this week. Monsters in Boxers has been put to rest. Of course, I fully expect it to rise from the grave and return as something entirely awesome in 2015.
Monsters in Boxers was the first project I wrote outside of Graham the Gargoyle. That was over twelve years ago. Back then, it earned me an agent who spent six months shopping it around and hearing feedback that its title was too close to Captain Underpants. I really haven't read it since publishing it as an e-book a few years back. This year, I decided to read it to my two writing classes. We are about halfway through the novel, and I'm finding a lot wrong with it.
I know you're thinking: why read it to the students if I can see it is a flawed book? Well, I am taking the time with them to discuss areas that don't work and where I am unhappy with the book. And they love dissecting the book. They offer suggestions of their own. Knowing I am unhappy with the book had allowed them to work on their criticism skills in an environment where they know I won't take offense. And this is paying off. My mind is already aflutter with new approaches, new structures, and sequences for the new version along with remedies to what ails the narrative and the characterization.
We should finish the reading by December. With the story elements fresh in my head, I will be taking January to write a new book one. The goal is to make each book 40,000 words and release them on an annual schedule. I have proven I can write 40,000 words in a three-week track out so I know I can easily craft the book and future volumes alongside my other projects.
Below are some observations about what wasn't working with the book:
Too many groups: Horde Lord and his Monster Clans, Thrayin the time goblin and F.R.E.D., the originators of the boxers, and Joptok. Having so many groups with their hands and claws in the plot is not needed. I have now streamlined it to two and made Joptok's role much more important and layered.
The Villain was Ugh: The series needs to be insane and over the top. Horde Lord should come across as a loon. He wasn't. He showed signs of gorgeous craziness but was too restrained. Not anymore. He's going to be mighty psycho in the new book.
More Monsters: While the first attempt has a lot of monsters, they just aren't creepy and unique. More care will be put into ramping up their twisted natures so that the idea of monster clans working together to bring upon Chaos will have higher stakes and be more legit. Also, they won't always play nice with each other. Divisions and betrayals will fester and grow among their ranks.
The Kids: Amy, Reggie, Troy and Jason will feel more legit. I've had kids of my own and worked extensively with 5th graders these many years and see the problems in my early characterizations. While I will continue to pepper the story with stories from my childhood recast for Jason and his friends, I can add more layers and contrast to their interactions now. Basically, I've lived a little since my twenties.
Description Issues: At times, I went too descriptive and overly pretty with the adverbs and phrasing. In other areas I didn't do enough description. The new version will be more consistent and well-oiled.
Getting There Faster: Plot points will move at a faster pace. While character moments and quiet moments will still be there, the goal is to have each chapter hit the ground running. A plot point that wasn't going to resolve until book four will now be the centerpiece of book two.
Stakes are Raised: They can't just slap on the boxers and be do-gooders. Using
the magical garments will have consequences that will come back to haunt them in the first book and take center stage in book three when they meet past wearers of the 100% cotton battlegear. And what they come face to face with isn't pretty.
Investment: Reading the first book, I can easily see how I wasn't invested in it. It wasn't from a lack of trying. I just didn't have the skills to be invested in the premise and characters. Now, with over a million words under my belt, I have the chops to do it.
My plan is to work up a document that fully dissects what will be cut from the book from the old version. Look for me to post that sometime in December. If all goes as planned, you'll be able to read The Chaos Storm, Book One of Monsters in Boxers in early March of 2015.