Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing a novel diary: Part 5

So, it's done!

Actually, I finished the first draft of the fifth Ethan Warner book a week ago, but have been so busy that I haven't had the chance to write this installment of the diary. The UK launch of Book 3, the USA and Canada launch of Book 1 and the various promotions have kept me occupied.

The finished first draft came in at just over 90,000 words, which is a little shorter than most of my previous titles. However, this is a great thing because it allows for expansion rather than the more usual effort of trying to bring the word count down. Editing with one eye on length is much harder to do.

Over the past five weeks it has taken to produce this first draft, I have used pretty much emptied my bag of tricks to maintain a steady rate of wrtiting, largely due to having a twenty-month old daughter running around at the same time. Much as I hate it, I have to close my office door to her and get on with my work while my other half looks after her. As you can imagine, small children are noisy, so I usually don headphones and play music as I work, often soundtracks to movies that set a tone which matches the novel I'm working on. For this novel, I listened to a lot of James Newton Howard's scores for movies like The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, the Lady in the Water and Unbreakable: no prizes for guessing that the novel is a chiller.

For me, music really helps me lose myself in the story - although after a while I turn it off when dealing with more complex scenes. It's not something that works for every writer, but I've always had what's been described as a 'visual' writing style and the mental imagery conjured by music helps me a great deal.

I set myself a writing goal of at least 3,000 words per day. The months of pre-planning and plotting allow me to write at this pace, knowing that the basic storyline is set and I've always got information available to me for the next scene. I never get writer's block. I do however get writer's pain-in-the-shoulder-and-achy-eyes syndrome, so I stop every hour or so and walk about a bit / have a cup of tea to break the cycle. When in full flow I can write over a thousand words per hour, but usually I'm a bit slower than that. Writing from 9am to about 4pm each weekday gives me enough time to produce my daily word count and lets me have the weekend off.

In the case of this book, during the writing process I produced about eight A4 pages of notes 'on the fly' describing different possible plot outcomes, character changes, missed opportunities for tension and conflict in scenes and relationships and other general ideas that appear like flashes of light as I'm writing. These are all now collated for the next stage of writing: the first edit.

( NOTE: Ideally, I would now leave the novel alone for a month before looking at it again. However, with the delivery deadline being  December 31st 2012 there is no luxury of a break: this has to be handed in first thing in the New Year so I'm diving straight back into the work. )

Before the first edit, I go through my notes and re-write them in order to match the plot of the story, checking details and thinking about how it all comes together with what's already been written. Further margin notes and reminders are made, usually in red ink to help them stand out, and what is essentially a full-edit is the result. I then start from the beginning of the novel, adding in the new changes, altering existing scenes to match new ideas, adding / altering or removing characters as required and also doing a general edit for typos and bad grammar. I don't spend too much time on the prose as this has it's own edit pass later. For now I'm concentrating on structure, making sure that I've got all the scenes that the story requires, have removed all the ones that it doesn't and that the whole thing hangs together well and makes logical sense to the reader.

This process takes at least two weeks and I'm currently half-way through it, drawing lines through each of my notes as I go along. This pragmatic, logical approach allows me to keep improving individual scenes while also keeping an eye on the novel as a whole. As soon as this task is complete I'll switch immediately to the next edit: my line edit, which is the polishing of the novel from front to back in terms of narrative, prose, dialogue, character and pace. I'll cover a few interesting tricks and tips for that process in the next post.


Kate said...

Gosh I'm impressed with the spped at which you write your first draft! :-)

Dean Crawford said...

Thanks Kate! It's all in the planning.... :)