Randall Flood: Bring on The Magic29,846 words written so far (about 50% complete)
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AUTOPSY OF AN EARLY BOOK

Posted on November 1, 2014

I had to put down a novel this week. Monsters in Boxers has been put to rest. Of course, I fully expect it to rise from the grave and return as something entirely awesome in 2015.

Monsters in Boxers was the first project I wrote outside of Graham the Gargoyle. That was over twelve years ago. Back then, it earned me an agent who spent six months shopping it around and hearing feedback that its title was too close to Captain Underpants. I really haven't read it since publishing it as an e-book a few years back. This year, I decided to read it to my two writing classes. We are about halfway through the novel, and I'm finding a lot wrong with it.

I know you're thinking: why read it to the students if I can see it is a flawed book? Well, I am taking the time with them to discuss areas that don't work and where I am unhappy with the book. And they love dissecting the book. They offer suggestions of their own. Knowing I am unhappy with the book had allowed them to work on their criticism skills in an environment where they know I won't take offense. And this is paying off. My mind is already aflutter with new approaches, new structures, and sequences for the new version along with remedies to what ails the narrative and the characterization.

We should finish the reading by December. With the story elements fresh in my head, I will be taking January to write a new book one. The goal is to make each book 40,000 words and release them on an annual schedule. I have proven I can write 40,000 words in a three-week track out so I know I can easily craft the book and future volumes alongside my other projects.

Below are some observations about what wasn't working with the book:

Too many groups: Horde Lord and his Monster Clans, Thrayin the time goblin and F.R.E.D., the originators of the boxers, and Joptok. Having so many groups with their hands and claws in the plot is not needed. I have now streamlined it to two and made Joptok's role much more important and layered.

The Villain was Ugh: The series needs to be insane and over the top. Horde Lord should come across as a loon. He wasn't. He showed signs of gorgeous craziness but was too restrained. Not anymore. He's going to be mighty psycho in the new book.

More Monsters: While the first attempt has a lot of monsters, they just aren't creepy and unique. More care will be put into ramping up their twisted natures so that the idea of monster clans working together to bring upon Chaos will have higher stakes and be more legit. Also, they won't always play nice with each other. Divisions and betrayals will fester and grow among their ranks.

The Kids: Amy, Reggie, Troy and Jason will feel more legit. I've had kids of my own and worked extensively with 5th graders these many years and see the problems in my early characterizations. While I will continue to pepper the story with stories from my childhood recast for Jason and his friends, I can add more layers and contrast to their interactions now. Basically, I've lived a little since my twenties.

Description Issues: At times, I went too descriptive and overly pretty with the adverbs and phrasing. In other areas I didn't do enough description. The new version will be more consistent and well-oiled.

Getting There Faster: Plot points will move at a faster pace. While character moments and quiet moments will still be there, the goal is to have each chapter hit the ground running. A plot point that wasn't going to resolve until book four will now be the centerpiece of book two.

Stakes are Raised: They can't just slap on the boxers and be do-gooders. Using
the magical garments will have consequences that will come back to haunt them in the first book and take center stage in book three when they meet past wearers of the 100% cotton battlegear. And what they come face to face with isn't pretty.

Investment: Reading the first book, I can easily see how I wasn't invested in it. It wasn't from a lack of trying. I just didn't have the skills to be invested in the premise and characters. Now, with over a million words under my belt, I have the chops to do it.

My plan is to work up a document that fully dissects what will be cut from the book from the old version. Look for me to post that sometime in December. If all goes as planned, you'll be able to read The Chaos Storm, Book One of Monsters in Boxers in early March of 2015.

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Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2014...
Interesting! It's great that you're honest, humble, and man enough to tear your own work apart, and it's great that the class is learning from this experience (something I bet most students don't get the chance to do).

I beta-read the book 2-3 years ago and can't remember it being as bad as you say. Maybe that's because we've BOTH grown as writers since then. The only criticism I remember making at the time was that the monsters themselves (ie, the kids' alter-egos) were nondescript. I had no idea what they looked like until I pointed it out and you added some descriptions, and even then it was hard to remember one from the other without constant reminders.

I think that's the inherent danger of made-up monsters. At least with nine shapeshifters in my Fog books, I can say "centaur" and "dragon" and "harpy" and readers generally have an instant picture of the characters. With four different made-up monsters in your book, your job is that much harder to get right. You MIGHT consider having them basically the same monster but with different skills/talents... but I don't know if that's doable or not.

Good luck with the revision!
Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2014...
Keith,
I do think description of the monsters was a little threadbare. I also think I can easily tackle four new creatures and make them distinctive with this new version. I've also got a great hook for how to close and end the book.

Plus, the narrative voice in the first version was all over the place and this one will adjust with each chapter and take on the POV of the character most in that scene. Readers will move about from the POV of Troy, Jason, Reggie, Amy, Joptok, Horde Lord, Ms. Appleton, and even Garrett. This will allow for deeper characterization and a more unified book. Back then I don't think I could've juggled the POV as well as I do now.

Part of me hopes you'll go read the first one again with new eyes and then tell me how you can understand why I see it as so naive and wretched now. It really has a lot of warts.

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