Monday, 17 December 2012

Being an Author: Conclusions of the First Novel.

You who visit regularly will know I have just concluded my first novel.

It is now away with others who will read and judge it - those who will decide if I am to be a published novelist, or not.

So now I get to look back on the journey and see if the decisions I made were right, if the assumptions I made were wrong, and if 'writing my first novel' is to be the template for all future work, or a list a calamities, a log of mistakes... paths never to be re-trodden.

I can make a guess at that answer. I really can.

Plotting, Planning, and Generally Being Organized
Not the right pantsing...

In Part One (written after I hit problems at about 20K, a month after I started) I made accusations that The Author (me) had not planned the work, but had pantsed it. I cited that this was stupid, ranted perhaps, and that this work should be planned. It must be plotted.

I was right. It should. (I can't guarantee that I will take my own advice here, more fool me)

But it should not stop there. Since Part One I have learned to note and plot, plan and journal the work in progress.

Keep notes of what you've done, and more: WHY YOU'VE DONE IT.

These notes can and will become little nuances that can later be added in to round characters and events; make them interesting using real reasons - don't struggle to make up fake ones.

Don't Take a Four Month Sabbatical

This notion of planning and plotting became the point of Part Two also. FOUR MONTHS AND TEN THOUSAND WORDS LATER.

Part Three is about actually getting off your ass and writing. Lesson learned.

Part Three also heralded in the completion of draft one. I had, at this point, written the novel. Okay, it was a stinking pile of crap-shoot, written over a period of ten months or so. It made little sense even for a shlock horror, the characters were indefinable and the plot was winged. Clearly.

But it was finished.

So yeah, decide what you're going to write and write it. That's pretty much it as far as the first draft goes.

Then comes the pain.

Allow The Work Time To Breathe

Part Four begins with me returning to it, around a month after I had completed it. I was told to rest the novel like a fine wine, come back at it with fresh eyes.

Good idea? Yes.

After completion, perspective is addled. Wait. Wait to savor the novel.

Then hate it. Then hate yourself (Part Five). Then accept, and learn to love (Part Six).

Edit It To Death I: Cut It's Arms And Legs Off

Editing comes at a price. It is your sanity. It took me three drafts to actually look at (what I had left of) my novel and say, 'I think everything's going to be alright.'

So, did I strip out my darlings? Did I cull bits and pieces?

Yes. Yes I did. Once the novel is written you have to make it palatable for the audience. I did this. It was shorter when I'd finished. It's not just about 'killing your darlings' either.

A good line is: remove everything that doesn't move the plot forward.

Strip out the dream sequences that you thought were a good idea at the time, seek out the plot points that go nowhere. Delete them.


Before you start editing make a copy of the whole. Once you begin - any major change (removal of a scene etc.) should incur the wrath of the backup monster. Slap a version number, a date, anything, on the filename, and archive it away.

Then backup your backup.

USB drives, other people computers, floppy disks (What?), anywhere that you don't use. No one likes to think about catastrophic failure, but if your laptop/computer explodes, how much work are you going to lose?

And once you've cut off all of the unnecessary bits? It's time to rebuild him.

Edit It To Death II: Building a better, stronger, story...

We can rebuild...
In Part Seven I started to put it back together again.I started to change my characters. I started to weave the plot. I made it interesting.

At this point I started to give my characters a voice that went with there actions. My psycho started to sound like an evil genius, rather than an accountant. 

Each of my characters found there own uniqueness. My hero became sentient. My villain, mischievous. 

I found it important to do this. It removed a lot of the 'bland' from the characters, and hence, the story.

By the end of Part Eight, it was a story. One I was starting to become proud of. 

Then, around Part Nine, I changed the narrative. I decided having read, written and re-written the damned thing, that the narrative was wrong (this makes sense when you know a little more about the story).

In order to make the 'mystery', the narrative should be - had to be - non-linear. 

It removed more 'bland'.

And then it was finished.

Opinions. The Novel Needs Opinions.

Before you start rushing around in the streets screaming, 'Look at me, I've got a novel for sale,' you'll need to get someone else to read it. Probably more than one. (Note: I only got one person to read mine because she really knows what she's doing. And no, I know I said this, but she's not in the basement.)

Getting someone elses opinion is really important before you start trying to sell it to potential publishers. (Self pubbing is a very different bag, but more on that later).

And once you've got their opinion, don't ignore it. 

They are not wrong. It is their opinion. If that is their opinion, then it will be others too. Don't dismiss the suggest that, 'maybe you should change chapter 4 - it's sort of sucky.' (hopefully they'll be more constructive than just saying sucky)

And then you need to sell it to someone. 

And that's a whole different problem...

'Til next time...

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