(Re)Writing God of the Hive
The first excerpt for The God of the Hive is here, to be followed by others on the 27th of January, February, and March. For those curious about the creative process (who among us is not?) each will be followed by a post showing the first draft of that section, with brief remarks talking about the rewrite process. I will take care to avoid major spoilers, although this post contains a minor one—if you wish to preserve the absolute purity of the eventual reading experience, you may wish to stop now and just stick to the excerpts themselves.
As you can see (you should get an enlarged version if you click on the image) the working title, which held from its original proposal (in the fall of 2008) until almost the last minute (September 2009) was The Green Man. I’ve blogged about the title and the character of the Green Man several times, posts you can track down if you like by hitting that tab over on the sidebar.
However, The God of the Hive is not an inappropriate title, because the key character in the book is a sort of modern Green Man, a spirit of the woods, the most British of demigods.
Not that the book is without other gods, two of which we meet in the Preface—which was originally Chapter Four, page 19, until I realized that the image of these two antagonists worked better as the foundation stone of the story rather than another event in the march of chapters. And here lies the mild spoiler referred to above, for in the final version, I decided to keep their identities unnamed (although I think the experienced reader will guess—or rather, deduce!—the name of prisoner long before it is given, anyway.)
Then Chapter One begins, with a slight shift of wording that opens meaning. And because my first drafts are basically an outline of plot written for my own eyes, this first draft amounts to a quick sketch, waiting for the final version to find all the color, detail, and balance the reader needs: Who are these people? What are they doing? Where are they? When are we? and most important of all, Why should I care about them?
Between the version that first went onto my laptop and the one that ended up between hardcovers lay countless changes. What was originally one five-page chapter broke into two chapters (of four and three pages, respectively) as the story that began with two figures crossing a barren hill at dawn took on intimations of a far larger world: Out there lay the machinations of Empire, and the threat of loss, and the sharper threat of pursuit. The relationship between Russell and this burden she carries (adding just enough background information so a reader unfamiliar with The Language of Bees will not feel lost) is central to the entire novel, and needs to be established from the beginning. We need drama, and humor; we need attention to the pacing of the sentences so the prose becomes both invisible and inevitable; we need to fully inhabit the head of the narrator, Russell, but with this book, we need also to be prepared to shift our point of view to encompass other characters.
And finally, the Green Man himself. We will not meet Robert Goodman for many chapters yet, but when we do, his presence needs to mesh instantly with what has gone before, as if we have been waiting for him all along.
Next month, excerpt two: Inside the mind (and–gasp–heart) of Sherlock Holmes.