Day One, Scene One, Chapter One

So I started work on the first scene of the first chapter of my Russian steampunk novel. I got eight hundred words or so done. It was initially a disappointing read. It lacked the the richness, power and drama I thought it would contain when I conceived the scene.

This is normal. For me, it’s how the transition from imagination to prose often works. In my mind, I had a picture of a landscape somewhere between Dore’s illustrations of 19th century London slums and Miyazaki’s villages from Laputa the Flying Island. Dark satanic factories belched forth smoke and flame. Things did not turn out quite this way. There was little of the sense of place I had imagined. I assume I will manage to shoehorn it in later. At least I know it’s missing.

I had envisioned writing the book in third person, but somehow when it came to it, I was in first person. I blame the influence of Jim Butcher. My elevator pitch to myself for the book was Harry Dresden meets Maxim Gorky meets Full Metal Alchemist. Seems my subconscious took that seriously.

The setting was bare. There was no physical description of the characters. These are things I know I will get around to fixing at some point. Right now, I am just pressing ahead to get some feel for the book. There was a sense of the character’s personalities and there were bits that were striking. We’ll get to those in a moment.

The scene did not start where I thought it would when I outlined it. I imagined an armoured train arriving in the aforementioned Miyazaka/Dore Czarist metropolis. But when the hero looked out the train’s window he did not see streets of soot-smudged snow, he saw a bare, frozen landscape, stripped of the trees he remembered once being there.

I am not sure why, but this happens often. I think I am going to sit down and write some specific thing but my brain decides I am going to write something else. Sometimes it’s just the characters getting up to their monkey tricks, doing what they want, not what I want. It’s frustrating but, over the years, I have found that it’s best to just to go with it. I’ll get to my destination through these detours. They are often the most interesting part of the journey anyway.

Details which were not in my outline emerged. One of the hero’s companions was reading a dime novel set on the Siberian Frontier. He liked reading them despite the fact he had been to Siberia and knew it was nothing like the pulps. He had black ink smudged on his finger tips from the cheap paper. Nice detail. No idea where it suddenly came from.

Our hero mentioned the missing forests in conversation. Turns out they were missing because they had been devoured by the factories during the recent mass industrialisation– they were fuel and wood pulp and kindling for the stoves of the masses.

Of course, they were. Clearly my underbrain had been giving this matter some thought even if my conscious mind had not.

And so it went on. Lots of surprising details, a vague connection to my outline. I’ll probably post this scene tomorrow along with my notes for revision. (Hey, I am currently on the lookout for easy daily posts.) We can compare it to the final version at some future date.


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