Writing

How to keep writing that book

I wrote a little bit here a few days ago about starting to write a new book (which I did on Monday). It’s now Friday and, outside special occasions, I only work Monday to Friday. So I now have five days with the new project under my belt and I’m calling it a day for the weekend.

Since my earlier ramblings generated a bit of interest let me set down a few notes about how that first week went.

As I said in the first post, I am essentially trying to put together the setup for the story — the characters, the puzzle, the challenge which will light the fuse for the narrative. How did that go?

When I began on Monday I had in mind a closing point for the setup. A discovery. Sometimes the surprise in a book can be that there is no surprise. The twist is there’s no twist. What you thought was going to happen is what happens. This doesn’t need to be a disappointment so long as the revelation still leaves some mystery hanging in the air. In other words, there has to be something inside the obvious that isn’t obvious at all. A problem to come that remains to be resolved.

It didn’t work out that way. The end point I had in mind developed as I wrote and now is both the same but with an extra factor. Why? Because that’s what the story kept asking for. You have to listen to your characters and your narrative. They’re not puppets on a string. They need to drive the story, not you.

Another discovery… the character list I set out with was unsatisfactory. Well, no. More incomplete. It involved two passive characters (at least they appear that way). We needed someone active in the story too, right up front, in a way that points up the passiveness of the other two. Adding in that active character changes things a lot, for the better. I hate that dread word ‘pace’ because when people use it they mean, all too often, ‘don’t be boring’. And, of course, you shouldn’t be boring. But character, mystery and suspense can develop pace in themselves. You don’t need a car chase to do that necessarily. As anyone who reads me knows, car chases around here are extremely rare. I’m more interested in character than squealing tyres.

CountOn Monday I managed 460 words or so. On Tuesday I added another thousand. Today I finished the week’s writing here (thank you Ulysses for kindly adding the encouraging word ‘already).

That’s not a bad tally for a first week’s work. Just to check it wasn’t an illusion I went back and read through all six scenes this covers to make sure I hadn’t been overwriting. This is something I try very hard to avoid. In fact I try quite deliberately to underwrite, and I’m happy to say I’ve been doing so here. Why? Because filling in holes is a creative act while cutting out unnecessary verbiage is just a chore.

Imagine you’re a painter. Would you really splash on all the paint you’ve got and then try to create the finished article by removing the bits you don’t want? Of course not. Why do that with a book?

The setup isn’t complete. I think it will take another five to seven thousand words or so to get there, and perhaps the outcome will change along the way. But what I have set out in the first week are some fixed points for the narrative.

  • The location and the time of year for the story (both of which are crucial to its telling).
  • The principal new characters.
  • A problem for one of the recurring characters which will make a related sub-text.
  • The voice of the book which, as always, will be different to the book it follows (writing a series doesn’t mean you have to churn out the same kind of story time and time again).

The daft thing to do at this point would be to throw in some kind of endgame calculation. You know the kind of thing… By next week I’ll be on 15K words or so. The story will probably break down into eight episodes of around this length. At this rate we’ll be done by Christmas!

Maybe. I don’t know. And it’s irrelevant. The book’s done when it’s done. One step at a time.

Oh, and before you ask. I have a faint idea how this story might work out in the end. And also a pretty good inkling that is going to change along the way.