October 16, 2010

MFA Thesis: Rewrite, or Chuck It?

One lesson I took with me after reading Stephen King's On Writing was that a writer should take a good deal of time before rewriting that first draft. Hide it away in the back of the closet. Pull it out in six months with a fresh eye and mind. Rewrite.

That lesson struck gold in me because at the time I was wrapping up my MFA thesis, which so happened to be a novel length work of fiction. I figured I'd knock out the first draft, polish it up with my classmates' and mentor's feedback, and stash it away for half a year after graduation. Well, I graduated in October of '09. It's been a full year and I still have yet to dive back into my "debut" novel. The poor thing is buried way back within a folder of a folder that's within a folder that is My Documents. There is a hard copy too, which is sure to be in one of two spots: the office closet in some unlabeled box that should be labeled "Misc. Crap", or in the bottom file cabinet drawer that always puts up a fight when I try to open it.

As you can see, my problem is not that I don't know where my story is. My problem is I don't know what to do with it. Like that bottom file cabinet drawer, I am simply stuck.

The story that makes up my thesis is one I conjured up back as an undergrad. Then, everything seemed so fresh. The world was mine to write. I scribbled notes creating this great, apocalyptic landscape complete with dense forests and deformed humans. The end of the world happenings would flesh out history's mysteries, such as vampires. In fact, two vampires would play important roles in my story. One was my protagonist's love interest; the other was the main antagonist. Ahhh, the innocence of yesteryear.

Now, quite honestly, I am vampired-out. Back in 2000, the Anne Rice novels dominated vampirology. Her stories were cool, calculating, and exposed aspects of humanity that I had never before considered. Today, the shared success of the Twilight series, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries has taken bloodsuckers from the realm of the supernatural to the front covers of the celebrity gossip mags.

The next hot, new monster?

If I am vampired-out, then surely others must be getting there as well. The window for vampire-themed entertainment will cycle out within the next few years once some other sexy, cool new creature takes HBO and the CW by storm.

One thing is for sure: I want to cut the vampires out of my thesis. If I am going to rewrite that and work it into my first novel, then that is one aspect of my story I must change. The tough part is figuring out how to change those characters into some other superhuman being that can still bounce from treetop to treetop (insert Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon joke here) and kill victims with little remorse. Once I decide on antagonists that offer both sweetness and villainy, I can make a go of it. Up to this point, my indecisiveness is stalling me. My thesis story stales by the day. In a way I have already given up on it, chalking it up to a learning experience. I'm afraid that's not the right decision though.

Meanwhile, I have started a new chapter (in the most literal sense). While I go forward with this new story, my thesis, my once-expected-to-be debut novel idles. Creating new material is such a thrill, but the screaming distractions that are my thesis' plot holes are tough to ignore. I am considering donning my most powerful mental earplugs until I finish the first draft of this new novel, but easier said than done. Winter is fast approaching, which means the apocalyptic setting of my thesis will be most relative to my seasonal writing disorder. I began my second novel during the spring, so it features a much lighter, more summery theme. 

The thesis. Make it into something or move on from the learning experience. Tough choice.

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