Caligula Edit Update: The Aurelian Structure

When I was composing the initial draft of The Meditations of Caius Caligula, I followed a pattern from the obvious namesake The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: in its Chapters. MoMA has Books rather than chapters, and the chapters are numbered for the sake of quotation. There are about 12 Books, and each of them is more or less a reflection of where Marcus was at the time he wrote it: It was composed over a number of years. There’s not much of an effort to organize the material thematically: he bounces around pondering various exercises in Stoic thought.

33. On Pain: What we cannot bear removes us from life, what lasts can be borne. The understanding, too, preserves its own tranquility by abstraction, and the governing self does not grow worse, but it is for the parts which are injured by the pain, if they can, to declare it.

34. On Fame: See what their minds are like, what they avoid, what pursue. And besides, that as the sands are constantly carried over one another, hiding what went before, so in our life what was before is very swiftly hidden by what is carried after.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VII

Contrariwise, I wrote MoCC in about 7 themed chapters, each of which feature Caligula expounding on a particular topic: Gods, Men, Women, War, etc. As much as the whole idea of the book owes itself to MoMA and I, Claudius, I didn’t want MoCC to mirror either work structurally. In the first place, Caligula was many things, but a Stoic was not one of them. In the second place, there are altogether too many I, Claudius ripoffs already. Putting an autobiography within a set of philsophical meditations seemed like a way for the book to live as it’s own thing.

The other purpose of the book is to engage in a bit of historical revisionism; differentiating the man from the legend, twitting Suetonius and Cassius Dio as Senatorial Propagandists. In this way, Caligula becomes rather like Richard III: a man who undoubtedly had blood on his hands, but was the product of a family and a time that would have made it hard to avoid villainy.

The difficulty in editing has been to avoid inflating the Chapters too much: I wrote them as rants, with a minimum of biographical detail. This was entertaining, but didn’t give me the emotional heft for the ending that I wanted. So I’ve been adding more detail. This has made the book more like I, Claudius, which I hadn’t originally wanted. This has made the going slow, as I worry I’m betraying the original vision.

The solution, which I experimented with yesterday, has been to break apart the large chapters, each of which were about 2,000 words in the initial draft. In this way, I can make each beat its own section. So the First Chapter, “On Gods,” is now several smaller Chapters, “On Germanicus”, “On Soldiers,” “On Lucretius”, etc. Some of these will be quite short, some longer, which fits with other Roman works such as Ovid’s Love Books and the Satyricon. I can freely expand where needed, allowing Caligula to tell his story and rant at the same time. It felt as if what the book needed finally fell into place. I’m looking very forward to the final result.

The Process of Editing

I’ve been saying for some time that I’ve been working on editing The Meditations of Caius Caligula. The initial draft appeared serially in Unnamed Journal (a distinction it shares with Void), except the final chapter, which has not been seen anywhere. Composing it rather pointed out some of the weaknesses of the draft. As conceived, my Caligula largely existed to subvert the myth around him. Less madman, more edgelord, was the main point of doing it. But that rather scuttles the climax. I needed Caligula to feel something. He’ll just be irritating if he’s not human.

So, I’ve had to expand him. To give life and memory to his utterances. And this has required adding more Novel elements, i.e. scenes and dialogue, to what was initially a monograph. I’m trying to insert this into his existing flow, rather than overtake it. It’s a challenge.

All of which means this thing is nowhwere near as ready for publication as I would like it to be. But that’s fine, because it’s given me opportunity to grow the text, to drawing off my readings of Ovid, and Lucretius and Suetonius, and have my Caligula adress the ideas inherent therein.

This is what they call Developmental Editing, as distinct from Line Editing, or Copy Editing. According to Bookbaby, Developmental Editing looks at the characterization, structure, pacing, plot: the nuts and bolts of your story. Line Editing looks at how well you use language to tell the story: flow, transition, and other elements of Style. Copy Editing is just making sure you don’t have egregious typoes.

In the past, I’ve done all of these things at once, which is a bit, shall we say, unstructured. So it’s looking like I’m really doing a rewrite right now, and then will do some more extensive editing. Such is the way of things. I’d rather do it right than rush it.