And so it ends, not with a bang but with a whimper. The manuscript for this story does actually go almost all the way to the end - I left out the final movement because I couldn't quite work out how to do it and I thought that going back and reviewing the story as I did the typing and the rewrite might fix it more clearly in my head. However, there were too many points earlier in the story that I had had the same idea about - that I could do them properly in the re-write - and so I ended up just stuttering to a halt.
I learned a lot of good lessons about writing though. My original technique, and the one which got me through The Death of the Marzipan Princess, was to plan first an overarching but flexible plot, then to make more detailed notes maybe two or three chapters ahead, but to otherwise write, chapter by chapter from beginning to end of the story, with slight rewrites where appropriate on the second run when I typed it up.
This isn't a very good way to work, but it was born of, and subsequently systematised, the urge to never have to admit that something didn't work; to never have to, in the currently accepted parlance, murder your darlings. I got away with it in TDOTMP because the story was simpler and I was blinder to the writing's inadequacies; and to be fairer to myself, I also knew that I was not going to be producing a masterpiece straight off the bat and so I still viewed it as a learning experience. This second novel, however, I had plans for - I thought that it would actually be good.
Yet as I wrote, and as I rewrote, it became clear to me that aspects of it really didn't work, and would need completely re-writing before anything readable could emerge. But I didn't know how to do that while retaining the aspects of the story that I wanted to keep. I knew that I wanted it to be about the things that it was already about, but there were too many themes and they jarred with each other.
I knew that I wanted it to be about Nina searching for her sister and her constant blaming of herself for things she had no control over, and about Grey and his search for his brother and his never taking the blame even when he is so very clearly at fault. I also knew that it would be about these two meeting, and an exploration and comparison of those two mindsets when on what is really the most important 'quest' of all, which is that of coming to terms with who we are and where we come from.
That's probably enough, really, but then I also brought in Robin, and the big fantasy quest plotline, as another comparison and an anchor into traditional fantasy literature. So, it was then going to be full of further comparisons, this time about what happens when, as you travel along in your own life thinking that you are the most important story, what happens when you get drawn in to and become merely a bit part in another story - which may have more global significance than your own, but less personal significance.
You can see how I realised that it was getting out of control. How I didn't know what to cut, and yet I knew that all that structure was unsustainable.
Similarly, I could feel myself growing up and maturing as I wrote the story. Lame puns and obscure references - the like of which had been the bread and butter of my gaming groups and so indelibly imprinted in my understanding of both fantasy and what fantasy readers wanted seemed flat and cheap and just unfunny. if I wanted to write a fantasy book that had at least some idea of literary conventions it wasn't enough to just do so in terms of the form, the content had to grown-up and to a certain extent universal, not full of private jokes that probably only I would understand.
One thing that people always talk about, when they talk about how to become a writer, is the idea that you should just keep going. The only way to learn is to write. This is true, to a certain extent, but it is not the whole truth. What people never tell you is that sometimes you should just stop writing. It isn't a competition, and the mere fact of putting the word on paper doesn't necessarily make you a writer; it doesn't always put you above the person who has the ideas in their head but hasn't done anything with them. Sometimes you need to stop and just let something die.
The birds had indeed been treacherous, for they were creatures of the air and had informed their master of the whereabouts of his enemies. But it was a desolate place that Nina walked in, devoid of mystery and magic and far from the reach of his agents, so instead a debt had been called upon.
At last, after so many days teetering with vertiginous loneliness that she had almost lost count, even with the tally of cuts that irritated her grimy, sweaty skin.