Meeting Expectations

I find that I really enjoy doing these posts where I write about the chapter I just posted. There’s a danger, though, that I’ll give too much of the plot away. This is balanced by the fact that I’m rediscovering something I wrote ten years ago and I’m actually changing it to reflect that I’m (hopefully) a better writer and (hopefully) better at coming up with interesting ideas.

After last week’s installment of this particular feature Firedrake left a comment that included this bit:

Now I realise that you’re going to do better than have the Magical White Guy be the simple solution to all her problems, but that’s the way it came over to me. Chapters 1 and 2 are all about expansion: break out, leave, do anything. Chapter 3 brings it all back down to the small scale: to three people, one town, and a plot we recognise at least in broad outline. I don’t have an answer to this, and indeed I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad thing, but it rubbed me wrong.

I was going to respond in the comments, but then I decided it would be an interesting launching point for another one of these posts. We’ve now gotten to know Nate and Emma a little better and seen them interact with each other a bit more.[1]

I genuinely appreciate the faith Firedrake expressed by assuming I would do better than having Nate be the solution to all of Emma’s problems. When I originally wrote the book, though, I don’t know that I deserved that sort of faith. I also don’t know that I was focused on Emma’s problems, either. I don’t think I really cared about Emma’s problems until later in the writing process.

Emma originally existed as a simple plot device. This was Nate’s story, after all.

I only shared the manuscript with a couple of friends and one told me he was really uncomfortable with the way Emma was introduced. He told me that Nate was too passive and Emma kind of took control and just told him what to do. He then questioned whether or not I wrote it that way because that was what I wanted to have happen in my life. It was an insightful question.

I wanted a woman to save me during that stretch of my life. I, in fact, wanted the girl I modeled Emma after to save me. She never did, which was probably for the best.[2] I unapologetically wrote Nate as an author substitute[3] Emma, then, was the author wish-fulfillment substitute.

I’m happy to report that Emma ended up developing on her own quickly. Between chapter 3 and the end of the book she got her own voice and her own character arc, which will come out more. There’s a lot I want to say here but can’t because spoilers.


The book didn’t end where I thought it would originally. I can say that much. This re-write is going to result in an even bigger shift away from what I wrote. I have a pretty good idea of what that shift will be, but I’m leaving space to be surprised.

I love writing. I love this project on which I’ve embarked.

I also like the bit in Firedrake’s comment about chapters 1 and 2 being about expansion and 3 being about reduction. That’s exactly what I was going for. There’s a part later in the book when this becomes explicit, assuming I don’t change that bit.[4] I think it’s interesting that this notion of the story is so readily apparent to someone else, though.

I wrote Second Chances before I discovered the world of storytelling. I thought that a lot of my notion of the story and how to tell it came from storytelling, but the broad strokes of the large and small being interchangeable were already there. Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey was also there. I’ve spent a lot of time working in those spaces ever since.

I wanted Second Chances to be a small story. I wanted Chauncey to be a small place. This was partially because I wasn’t sure about my ability as an author, so I wanted something I could control. I created a small place intentionally. I find that I’ve really enjoyed revisiting the story now, since I can still see the scaffolding and I can enjoy seeing what I did right while honestly assessing what I did wrong. I can also say that I’m proud of the things that I did right the first time around.

Also, on a functional level, I chopped chapter 4 in half. It’s Saturday in Nate and Emma’s world and Sunday matters a great deal. I put Saturday and Sunday together originally, but there was a natural break that I apparently didn’t want to take advantage of in the original story. Why? Who knows.


[1]I’ve also discovered that the world has changed drastically since I wrote the book. I had to add the bit about the internet because in 2003/2004 when I wrote the original draft the idea of a shitty internet connection and no 4G connectivity wasn’t really a thing. I mostly wrote the original on a laptop that I occasionally hooked up to the internet using a 56.6 modem the size of a credit card that hooked into a slot on the side. My only good internet connection was at work. When I went to Western Illinois University in the fall of 2004 I finally had an always on internet connection for the first time. I was still four years away from my first smart phone (HTC Tilt using the Windows Mobile from before the Windows Phone phase).

There was something else that doesn’t come into play, but one of the questions I really had to wrestle with back when I originally conceived of the book was, “Do I have to have the characters discuss 9/11?” In 2002/2003 when I came up with the plot and started writing the book that seemed like a really big deal. We as a people were splitting the world into pre- and post-9/11 and talking about how it would define everyone’s life forever. Now? Not so much.

[2]Her name was Emily, for whatever that’s worth. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever met. I tried asking her out several times and she always turned me down. I think that was for the best, since I’m pretty sure that our lives were on inexorably divergent paths.

The odds that she’ll ever read these posts are somewhere deep, deep in the negatives, but I do hope that wherever she is she’s happy and fulfilled.

[3]In the original manuscript Nate’s car was a burgundy 1996 Chrysler Concorde. That was, unsurprisingly, the exact car I was driving at the time. I never specified where Nate lived, but in my mind he lived in Glen Ellyn, the town next to Wheaton, which was my hometown and where I currently live. He took a train into Chicago for work, which was always my notion of what adults did. I spent the last three years taking a train into Chicago for work and it actually gets really old really quick.

I’m also a White Sox fan and my dream car is a fire engine red 1956 Cadillac Sedan DeVille convertible.

[4]I probably won’t. I mean, I probably will, but I know the overall scope of the upcoming chapter won’t change. The interactions in and implications of said chapter sure as hell will, though.

One thought on “Meeting Expectations

  1. Been busy for a while, and now I’m catching up. I’m interested to see where this goes. Will comment further on specific chapter posts.

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