Ain’t No Grave: Day 54

I finished the first draft of Ain’t No Grave.  Well, in truth, I wrote about 87,000 words, which falls short of my 100,000-word goal, and I didn’t get to the end, but nevertheless, I’m calling the first draft done.

In regards to that part about not reaching the end, let me clear the air now and tell you that I haven’t abandoned the story.  There are problems with the story of such magnitude that the ending doesn’t matter at this point.  That’s not to say that endings are meaningless, but by the time I correct the problems in the draft, I’d have to rethink and rewrite the ending anyways.

I haven’t begun revising the first draft, haven’t even started to print it yet.  That reminds me: I need to stop by Office Depot and pick up a ream of processed tree carcass.  Nothing says “zombie story” like printing it on a tree’s corpse, but I digress.

I’m sure I’ll find more as I go through the material, but there are a few major problems that come to mind right off the bat that need immediate attention.  First, there’s no strong sense of the main characters: Donny, Megan, and Allen.  Donny is the one I think we spend the most time with, but he’s still an enigma.  We don’t know much about his past or what’s really driving him, and he doesn’t seem to have any plan whatsoever other than living to the end of the day.  With Megan, we know a little bit about her family, but she doesn’t seem to be very grounded with the rest of the trio.  Allen feels like dead weight.  He doesn’t seem to do much at all.

Speaking of dead weight, the second problem is that there are a bunch of sections in the story that can be omitted entirely.  There‘s a section in Fontana, California that doesn’t really add anything to the book.  That can be removed.  I had this idea of giving Donny a recurrent dream that later involves a secondary character named Shelley who comes in so late that she has no gravitas at all.  I think including Donny’s dreams might have seemed cool in the beginning, but it really contributes nothing.

Third, I need to pin down a sense of voice.  Earlier in the story, there were a couple of things I did that I liked quite a bit, tactics such as letting the internal dialog come through or giving certain zombies of momentary importance nicknames (I picked this up reading Chuck Wendig’s Double Dead).  The internal dialog lets us know the characters more intimately and pick up on their sense of paranoia.  The nicknames give us a shorthand; it’s quicker to call a zombie “Swiss Cheese” rather than “the zombie with lots of bullet holes in his chest”.

And speaking of voice and tone, Ain’t No Grave needs to find its balls because I’m not feeling the peril.  There were a couple of scenes in the first half that got me concerned for the characters, but so much time went by in between that I was numb to their plight.

Finally, the plot needs to congeal.  Yes, Donny, Megan, and Allen are all looking for safety, but there‘s no plan on how to get that security, or they have an excuse not to stay safe.  There’s a large section where the three of them take refuge at a brothel in Pahrump, Nevada, and it seems like a stable place.  There’s food, water, and medicine.  There are cops armed to the teeth keeping a lookout.  Aside from the stigma of it being a whorehouse – which is pretty minor given, you know, the zombie apocalypse and all – it feels like a pretty decent place to survive in.  In fact, the book goes out of its way to show how stable Pahrump is and how a lot of the families passing through end up staying to help build a community.

Donny, however, picks up his stakes and leaves because he says it doesn’t feel safe.  Now, sometimes your gut instincts can be a good thing, but not when they fly in the face of logical reasons to stay put, especially when Pahrump really isn’t one of those too-good-to-be-true locales.

A reminder: I haven’t gone back and read a single page of the manuscript, and I’m coming up with all these flaws.  It’s better to cut my losses on the first draft and begin revisions now rather than piddling away for another week just so I can try and get to 100,000 words.

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