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Thursday, August 21, 2008

I've completed my novel

Back in February, I said something about dusting off my Nanowrimo 2005 novel. Just to summarise what I posted then: I participated in the National Novel Writing Month back in 2005, I reached 50 000 words but never completed the story. I wanted to finish it one and for all.

The fantasy/scifi novel was based on ideas, concepts and characters I was working on since my secondary school years, one of those rare periods of my life where the childhood dream of filmmaking was put aside for something else. I wanted to write an epic fantasy story so epic that it would probably take 4-5 books to complete. Through those years, I was collaborating with a friend on it. What filmmaking is to me now was what the story was to me then. Almost everything.

Years went by. Life happened. Our differing philosophies halted the project. He went to Sydney, I went to Perth. But one year after I went there, I decided to pick up the strands of what we left off then and integrated them into the novel I worked on for Nanowrimo 2005. Inspired by the giddy sensation of unrequited first love, I was exploding with creativity.

But life happened again. I got more involved in filmmaking, and the aforementioned source of my creativity explosion was gone too, so I lost my own motivation to finish the novel. I guess it also had to do with the fact that the amount of fantasy books which I used to devour non-stop had lessened over the years (the only fantasy series I follow now are George R R Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and Steven Erikson's MALAZAN CHRONICLES), making it harder for me to get into the fantasy writing mode.

When I declared that I would continue the novel again in February, I didn't really do much aside from writing a short scene. I realized I had written myself into a hole and was finding it hard to climb out.

So months went by, I moved to Tokyo, and somehow, just like before when I was in Perth, I became more inspired. In a foreign land, during my common bouts of self-indulgent solitude, I'm constantly lost in my own thoughts. Since summer holidays began a month ago, I was determined to finish the bloody (still title-less) novel. I think it's all about commitment and discipline, and also to strike the iron while it's hot.

And that's what I did, attempting painstakingly to write myself out of some plot holes. The story was too ambitious, the way it was set up seemed as if I really wanted to do a 10-book fantasy series, so I began to close some subplots, paring down the scope of the story, making it go from epic to something more personal. It went from LORD OF THE RINGS to... maybe, STARDUST. Or even simpler.

It took me a month to write 50 000 words back in 2005. I wrote another 10 000 words to complete the novel, and I needed also a month to do it. It was hard to continue because my personal worldview had changed, my writing style had changed, my sensibilities, my tastes, everything.

After all, three years to me, is a long time. In these three years, I've written and directed two student short films, co-produced a feature film, produced and edited two telemovies, and later wrote and direct another two professional short films. So the me of now had to find a common ground between the me of 3 years ago to continue the story. And that took a while. (Of course, once someone actually reads it, I'm sure their reaction would be... "jeez, you really went through that much to write something a simple as this?")

And yet I finished everything last night, going through an entire night without sleep. While I didn't do anything as dramatic as Rowling did, like crying after writing the ending, I was quite happy, feeling as if I've exorcised something that had haunted me since I was a teenager.

My motivation was simple. I only wanted to get things done, prove that I can do it, make the best of what I had, learn from my mistakes, so I can move on. Now that It's finished, many have asked whether I can, or want to, get this novel published.

I seriously don't know.

It's a pulpy fantasy novel that's unreadable at times, which makes that worse than an unreadable literary fiction. And as the story takes place in a fictional world, I didn't pull off the obligatory shallow trick of 'exoticizing' my own unique Malaysian culture to declare my work a work of a Malaysian. But objectively, it might not even be that good. Heck, even if it's readable, it's nothing compared to the fantasy masters except for the fact that I went more for zany romantic comedy (one of the two main strands was a riff on the Korean film MY SASSY GIRL) than your usual epic quest or war story. So for now, I don't know what will happen to this.

I might go back and revise earlier parts of the novel to make it more congruent, I'm thinking of getting someone to do illustrations for it so that it won't be just a plain novel, and hey, maybe I'll even take the May Zhee route of self-publishing, unless May Zhee's nice enough to publish my novel and give me a glorious pink cover as well.

But now, I'm just happy that I got it done. I can start working on my new short film script.