I'm a little more than halfway through the first draft of Shunga-Satori, and experiencing one of the difficulties I expected would come up in this project: what happens when you find yourself writing the kind of book that, if it came from anyone else, you could criticize on grounds you've used before. I'm specifically thinking of a problem common to fantasy stories, especially those not in a conventional heroic/epic mold: the problem of there being either no rules, and therefore no stakes; or rules that are too complex and fluid for the audience to grasp intuitively, with the same net effect. Nobody can invest in a story that runs through their fingers the minute they close their hands around it. So what's to be done?
The first thing I have to remind myself of: this is only the first draft. There will be inconsistencies and inadequacies. None of this stuff ever checks out five-by-five on the first go-round. Drafting means writing something, finishing it, and then using what you've created as raw material for another take. For all I know, I might find throughlines and ways to derive consistency in the story after I get through it the first time that I couldn't possibly have seen from thirty thousand feet up when outlining it.
That's my hope, anyway. A natural hazard that comes with any of the projects I select for myself is attempting something too ambitious for my own good. On the other hand, not attempting something more ambitious than what I've done before feels like stagnation. I don't want to just write the same things, or extensions of the same things, especially not when so many other people are offering up exactly that by the bushel. I'd rather push myself, and have each work be a way to push myself in a different and newly fruitful direction.
As far as the problems specific to this book go, it occurs to me that this isn't the first time I've felt like this. Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned and Fall Of The Hammer also had degrees of complexity to them that I worried might be self-defeating. But over time I found ways to make those complexities manageable, to connect them back to the story's main concerns, and — this is the big one right here — never leave the reader in the dark about what where everyone stands in relation to them and what they all mean. E.g., if I have to re-explain something for the sake of reinforcing its significance, I should do it in a way that advances things, not just repeats already-known information. And again, that's what drafts are for: to test out ways of making that happen, and refine them.
Some time back I looked at all the different kinds of projects I had in mind and said to myself, there's a good chance many people who like my books A or B aren't going to like my books C or D, even though all four came from the same person. I have to resign myself to the idea that not everything I do is going to be for everyone, let alone the few folks I've gathered here. One of my biggest fans for other works of mine was left stone cold by a couple of them, for reasons I intuited were entirely personal and aesthetic. I'm long past taking any of that personally. What I should never do, though, is use those as an excuse to not try and make each one of them as polished and integral as possible.