Separate Ways and Chloe’s Journey

Me, write a novel? Why not?

I wrote the first draft of Separate Ways in November 2010, during National Novel Writing Month. I’d been searching for a creative outlet and decided to give the month-long novel writing challenge a shot. It was the first serious creative writing I’d done since high school, and I had no idea what I was doing!

Just over a week before my frenetic literary odyssey began, an idea struck me in one of those serendipitous middle-of-the-night moments. I woke up to a strange droning sound and searched the house for its source. I looked out nearly every window and finally stepped outside into the cool, clear October night. As I gazed upward into the starry sky, curious thoughts stirred. What if my wife had woken up and I was missing? What if I returned to bed and she was gone?

Thus began the story of David and Chloe Sullivan, a happily married couple who each woke up one morning to discover the other had vanished. I’ll never forget getting up early that first day of November and struggling to put down 1,667 words about David’s search for a strange noise in the middle of the night. It was harder than I thought it would be, but I embraced the challenge.

I alternated each scene, covering one event from David’s perspective and the next from Chloe’s. They searched for each other, lost hope, moved away, started new lives, and formed new relationships before being thrown back together just as suddenly and mysteriously as they’d been separated.

I hit my 50,000-word goal before November 30, but the story wasn’t finished. I had to keep writing! The first draft finally came to a dramatic conclusion on December 12, 2010, with 81,655 words and an epiphany moment that survived all the way to the published manuscript.

Backstory is half the story

Almost seven years later, I self-published Separate Ways. It was an on-again/off-again thing I would obsess over for a while, then set aside, then obsess over again. I couldn’t decide whether to take a fantasy/sci-fi slant with the alternate universes or keep the metaphysics subtle and focus more on David and Chloe’s relationship. I eventually settled on the latter and cut the alternating points of view to let Chloe drive the narrative.

One of the first things I learned while revising my manuscript was that the most interesting part of the story happened after David and Chloe reappeared in each other’s lives. The events leading up to that were important, but they were backstory. The fact that I had already explored them and written them out helped a lot as I crafted the later drafts, even if those events weren’t shown in their entirety.

I considered adding a prologue to incorporate some of the backstory but decided that such a small snippet simply wouldn’t add enough to the book. Instead, the story begins with Chloe in the middle of a Monday morning crisis, just before David reappears.

David and Chloe discuss several of the backstory events throughout the novel, but I still wanted to do a little more with them. There wasn’t an overall arc compelling enough to morph them into another novel (that’s why they were cut, after all). A series of short stories might have worked, but they would have needed context to tie them together.

Let’s make a game!

I’ve been in contact with Jean and Blair Leggett of One More Story Games for several years now, watching them create both a collection of compelling narrative-driven games and a tool for writers to make their own. I played around with StoryStylus a little but never dug in and built a full game, mostly because I got distracted by other writing projects.

Once Separate Ways was finally finished, though, I saw an opportunity to put those backstory elements to use in a fun and unique way: an interactive prologue.

In Chapter 2, Chloe’s boyfriend Richard shows her a painting that evokes memories from the past decade:

Richard grinned and pulled the cover off the easel to reveal a canvas covered in swaths of color that swirled in a way that felt incredibly familiar yet unknown, like a photograph of a favorite landmark blurred by fog on the lens. Darks and lights came together in unexpected ways, and there seemed to be a story to it if she followed the lines just right. She was overcome by memories of home, of David, of the empty years looking for him, of moving to the city, of meeting Fred, of her relationship with Richard. It took her breath away.

“I call it Chloe’s Journey,” Richard said proudly. “Did you notice the canvas? It’s the same kind you use. I tried to emulate your brush patterns and duplicate your palette, too.”

“It’s incredible.” Chloe could barely breathe the words. Somehow, he had captured in abstract the same style as her landscapes, weaving together tones and techniques from those paintings to evoke stories from her past.

Therein lies the context. The painting Chloe’s Journey is the element that ties the events of Chloe’s years without David together. It’s the framing story, or in gaming terms, the “hub world.”

A work in progress

I’ve been working steadily on Chloe’s Journey and hope to have it finished soon! The writing is mostly done (just needs a little polish) and I’m currently drawing artwork. I also plan to compose some original music for the game.

In the coming weeks, I’ll post more about the process of creating my interactive prologue, including a look at its implementation in StoryStylus. Stay tuned!