New Ideas in Old Manuscripts

It’s always interesting rummaging around in drawers or boxes you haven’t opened in awhile. You find things you had forgotten completely about. I’ve been moving into a new house, and that’s caused a lot of finding things I’d forgotten about. Some of them I’ve decided I don’t need anymore. Others I think I need to do something with. Both often cause a sense of surprise and delight.

It is like that rummaging around in the drawers of the mind too. I was going through my notebook (I keep tons of these; it’s an old habit from the pre-electronic days of my childhood, when I wrote down everything I wanted to do), and I was looking over notes for a novel I wrote about eight years ago I’d been planning on making my next project. It needed a rewrite to tune up the prose, update the technology, and streamline the story.

The more I worked on it, the harder it all seemed, the less I wanted to do it.

But there were notes to another novel in that notebook — a novel that is much, much older than the one I thought I would work on. It is the second-oldest “completed” work in my history as a writer. It’s a novel I wrote in high school (the first draft was handwritten into a spiral-bound notebook), and the notes I found were for my most recent (a few years ago) attempt at a rewrite to bring it up to date and publish it.

Calibot’s Revenge is an awful book. Based very loosely on a couple events from my first D&D campaign, the first draft has all the ugly earmarks of an awkward 15-year-old’s power fantasy. I try not to read it anymore, because it makes me cringe.

But there is the seed of a good story within it. A son is forced to avenge the murder of his father, one of the most powerful wizards in the world. A magic sword and a close friend are the tools he has to combat another magician.

In 1991, I found the original manuscript, laughed at how bad it was, but found that germ of a story for something that was actually worth writing (and reading). I changed Calibot, the central character, from a warrior-adventurer to a poet. He would be unwillingly thrust from a life of increasing his standing in court as an artist to the role of world savior, stopping a plot that would change the balance of power. The novel’s major theme was the way power-mad individuals (including Calibot’s father, who allowed himself to be murdered to set these events in motion) attempt to manipulate histroy for their own selfish purposes.

I wrote about a third of it, and then inexplicably stopped and never returned. It was just as well. It was still very much a traditional male fantasy.

Years later, I was researching another book and came across an interesting tidbit on the mythological derivation of gnomes. They were believed to be guardians of powerful treasures, magical creatures who protected the treasures of the Earth.

Because it was based on a D&D campaign, the villain in Calibot’s Revenge was a gnome. Knowing this piece of mythology changed my perspective again. What if Calibot’s father had used his magic to steal something from this gnome? Then the murder would have a real motive. The villain would be trying to reacquire the artifact stolen from him.

I made a bunch of notes to rewrite the book with this idea in mind, but I only wrote one chapter. Still, it was these notes I stumbled across a few weeks ago.

As I left off the idea of rewriting the other novel, and started thinking about Calibot’s Revenge, one of the book’s main problems stared me in the face. Nearly all the characters were men. I was going to have to make some changes if I wanted it to be something more than the male power fantasy.

And that’s when another idea hit me. What if Calibot was gay? What if, instead of having a close and loyal friend, he had a lover?

As my mind starting turning that possibility over, a sub-theme from earlier drafts occurred to me. What if Calibot was estranged from his father. What if Calibot was the son of the most powerful wizard in the world, and his dad was disappointed in him. What if all that was the case, and then suddenly Calibot had to avenge his father’s murder and possibly save the world in the process?

The character conflicts were rich and interesting. I had a novel I really wanted to write. It wasn’t just an adventure story; it had the potential to have some real meaning.

I immediately decided I was going to present Calibot’s relationship with Devon (the friend turned lover) as normal. I wanted the book to be about relationships — specifically Calibot’s relationships with his father and his lover. Because I don’t see any difference between heterosexual and homosexual romantic relationships, I just wanted the book to be about two people in love struggling to deal with being unexpectedly thrust into events that are larger than they.

So I’m excited to be writing Calibot’s Revenge for the fourth time. I think I’ve got it right this time. I think I’m finally writing a novel worth reading.

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One thought on “New Ideas in Old Manuscripts

  1. Pingback: Write Every Day to Stay “In Shape” « John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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