The rewrite progresses slowly, mostly because I’m struggling to find out where the last draft went wrong. I could slowly explore everything I want to get at, but for this story, I’m trying for a kind of compression I’ve never achieved before. In short, I’ve managed to start telling shorter stories by limiting what happens in them; a shorter time-frame means a shorter story. I’m still at the point where longer arcs of plot, and more underlying ideas, necessarily mean a much longer story. But some of the reason for that is that I have a tendency to get explanatory or downright didactic about the ideas I’m playing with, and the fact I tend to introduce changes and developments into my worlds step by step, bitlet by bitlet. In “A Killing in Burma” I’ve decided to achieve compression by taking an approach more like an airbrush or a particle beam — change is getting sprayed at the characters, some of it overwhelmingly so, and they have to adapt to it, catch and notice what they can and simply dodge or adjust the rest. As characters are realizing one thing that’s happening, in other words, the next one is already upon them.
And that kind of a progression of events takes more planning, more of a clear sense of what’s happening next, and after that, and after that, and so on. Looking through the eyes of just a few characters in an isolated shanty town outside Rangoon, I want to rocket a future Burma that has collapsed into pre-industrial revolution tech levels into something like a warped version of the world described in Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things, in which production is continuous, on-the-spot, always experimental, provisional, and temporary — a very post-industrial society. And I want to do it in just 5000-6000 words.
So, what I really need to do is get back to planning who’s where, what’s happening when, and how they all connect up. Plus finish reading Sterling’s book, and finish reading the book on Myanmar that I’ve gotten out of the library, and, then, plan some more. This compression business is tough, but I’m getting better at it and the only thing to do is keep challenging myself more, and more, and more. If I can pull this off, I think it’ll be time to go begging for a new challenge from my classmates, to attack some other weakness of my writing. But if progress slows, this necessity of planning is the reason why. I really do want to finish with Burma in the next week or two, and get back to some revisions I’ve put off far too long.