The Real World is currently sitting at 83,000 words. This ought to be enough words, but of course not all of them will end up in the final version.
At present I’m wondering whether I’ve got to the point where I put it away for three months. I probably have. At the beginning of the year I told myself that I was aiming to have a first draft in October, and, apart from a few [insert science fact here] notes, I’ve filled in most of the gaps.
In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to compare it with its two predecessors – not in terms of word count (that wouldn’t take long) or in terms of what precisely I was panicking about, when (that’s a question for another post), but in terms of what you might call the emotional arc.
Thus far, I have always written about what one of my friends called ‘people sorting their heads out‘: characters who are stuck in their own assumptions, their own worldviews, and how they get unstuck.
What makes The Real World different is the fact that I show much more of the process of getting stuck.
Here’s a diagram:
Speak Its Name chugs along for the first hundred pages or so with Lydia operating within the same narrow constraints that she’s known all her life. When she takes a long, hard, look at herself, everything suddenly opens out – and keeps opening.
What we can’t see, of course, is how the increased exposure to people outside her own social group is affecting her without her knowing it.
In fact, all three diagrams show only what’s going on in the protagonist’s head, and only what they’re conscious of (or would be, if they thought about it). They don’t show the external circumstances or other characters’ decisions that are working on them. Nor do they show all the little accumulations and releases of tension that drive a story. Just the perceived stuckness, if you like.
In A Spoke in the Wheel, the most stuck part is actually before the opening of the book. When we meet Ben, he’s not quite at his lowest point: he’s just coming out of it; he’s made a major change in his life. He still has a very long way to go, and the process isn’t quite as smooth as the diagram implies, but the only way is up. Or, to put it another way, it’s all uphill from here.
The Real World starts out in Colette’s head with a reasonably broad worldview, and then compresses and compresses things until it’s almost intolerable. But, as you see, it finds a bit of space right at the end.
I’m a bit apprehensive about what people will make of it. Will it all be hideously depressing (or, worse, boring) – or will the increasing stuckness drive the tension up?
The answer is, I honestly don’t know, yet. It’s difficult to tell when I’ve been buried in the text. That’s why I’m putting it away until the new year. I’ll let you know.