My own critique of “Horse Tamer”, so far

I just took a count and I am 41,000 words into Horse Tamer, which is fairly remarkable for a novel for which I am creating one comparatively short chapter every week or two, while I’m making progress on another novel. This is, in fact, the first time I have ever tried to essentially write two novels at the same time. (If anyone needs proof that I am basically fruit-loops, you need look no further).

Looking back over what I have done so far, I can see certain issues emerging with the story, problems which, if this were a normal first draft, would either be items to mark down for future correction or to be dealt with by means of mid-course changes. But this is far from a normal first draft. I am uncertain whether this story will ever proceed to a second draft. It may, in fact, never see the light of day beyond this blog. To put it another way, what “finished” will ultimately mean for this story is very unclear.

It may be necessary, therefore, for me to make corrections as I go and engage in periodic retcons. Since I am, rather arrogantly, presenting this tale to the public more-or-less as it flows off my keyboard, that means doing something in public– editing a draft– that should properly be done in private, like certain items of personal hygiene. My recurring instinct is to apologize, but I plow ahead regardless.

Issues to-date:

1. I am uncertain whether I am adequately conveying Mankin’s central conflict– his uncertainty whether he wants to continue living, whether, indeed, he has anything to live for. Finding a balance here is difficult– too heavy a hand and I have a maudlin, weepy character of which the reader will quickly tire. I have come, very late in my “career” as a writer, to an understanding that it is unnecessary to beat the reader over the head with emotions– you have to trust that the reader can comprehend a character’s turmoil with only a certain number of strategic indicators of their pain. I am unsure, though, whether I have achieved that balance. This would be something to return to in a second draft, to see what needs to be fleshed out or pared down– but, as I said, there may be no second draft for this story, and I may just have to forge ahead.

2. Crisonia. This is a new character, and I am beginning to think that I have put her in an impossible situation. She has sworn herself to vengeance for her murdered father, but I have left her without the means, in any conventional sense, to accomplish it. Edmond Dantès, at least, had the Abbé Faria’s wealth to fuel his vengeance. I also begin to worry I haven’t made her quite as obsessively vengeful as she needs to be. This could be a matter to be dealt with via a mid-course correction and a series of (possibly massive) retcons.

3. More critical than either item one or two is the realization that, this far in, I haven’t yet really begun to outline the overarching plot driver of this novel. I’ve laid out hints here and there, given out tidbits, but I haven’t really begun assembling the time-bomb that’s going to drive these characters together, and then into action. I’ve been taking my time outlining the characters and their situation, enjoying building the world and the city of Venia, but 41,000 words is a long way to go without setting the time-bomb to ticking.

The problem is that I still haven’t gotten everyone in place– heck, I haven’t even introduced all my main characters yet. I have a tendency to take my time at the beginning of a long story, building out the world, but this may be a record. Of course, what some people call leisurely world-building others call a problem with pacing.

In a normal first draft this would be a matter for cutting and pasting, moving elements around, tightening timelines, and fleshing out characters. With Horse Tamer, I may have to be satisfied with some retcon placements of guns– or, more properly, long swords– on mantels, and a better focus, from this point forward, on where this story as a whole is going.

Hopefully identifying these issues and figuring out how to deal with them will, in the long run, help make Horse Tamer a better read for those of you brave enough– or tolerant enough– to slog through it with me. Bear with me. I think there is some very good stuff coming down the pike.

And PS, full disclosure– a quick review of my previous chapters reveals that there are any number of fun little oopsies scattered through them– e.g. I called Nema “Rema’ in at least one chapter, and in another the rebel faction in the Attau civil war is referred to as the “Red Party” in one place and in another place in the same chapter as the “Black Party”. All the sort of fun little mistakes I typically make with a first draft, which I will have to comb out and fix at a later date (in my normal process, these are the kind of errors I catch with my hard copy edit). It’s almost reassuring how consistent I am…almost….


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