Well, we’re officially finished with this whole first draft thing. We’ve written our hearts out and our pens are dry.
If you’d told me last November that in under a year, I and my co-author would have written nigh on a quarter of a million words and not thrown them into the waste paper basket, I’d have been very surprised, and wondered where I would have found the time. However, find it we did and now, ten months later, we’ve got ourselves 250,000 words of raw narrative material.
How did we get here?
To begin with, we had nothing. Well, that’s not strictly true – we had four thousand words, written by Fran, and taking the form of a short story called The Medal. This tiny spark of story-telling flame was sheltered, fanned and given the fuel of our imaginations until it had grown to a whopping 18,000 words. We were rather pleased about this and Fran decided to start another story, linked to The Medal, concerning one of the first tale’s characters. We started to work on that in the same way that we had done with the Medal and before long, that had grown to over 13,000 words. And then – yes, you’ve guessed it. We took another character mentioned in the second story and started to give him his own narrative as well.
By now, we were beginning to realise that these pieces were not just stories in their own right but parts of something bigger – we were writing a novel, although we had not been aware of that before. We started to work out how the individual stories would cross and interweave, how they would finally come together and before long, we had – in our own minds – an idea of the novel as a whole.
But of course, somebody had to ask an awkward question. In my case, it was my mother-in-law, who posed the one that I suppose all writers have had to face from time immemorial; “What’s the book about?”
Now I’m savvy enough to realise that this is in fact code for “What happens in it?” but at the time I found myself jabbering about themes and concepts, character development and overarching plot. What I was revealing to her was that I hadn’t the faintest idea what did happen in the book. I was still neurotic enough about the whole process of plot creation that I imagined to put something down on a page was to imprison the creative process and chain it so that if we wanted to go off on an authorial journey into the wilderness of unknown territory, we would be prevented from doing so.
But we did need to have at least a working plan; as my wife so elegantly put it, “you can’t sell what doesn’t exist” and that was definitely the case with the remainder of our book. We did need a synopsis, if only to inform and guide us on into the second half of the book and towards its inevitable end.
Once again, with the help of Google Docs and some late Friday night question and answer sessions, we arrived at a working synopsis. Once that was done, I had to sit down and work out where each character needed to be at particular times in order that they could all finally meet up for the grand finale. A spreadsheet was drawn up, characters across the top, dates down the side. Finally, we could see where Character A was when Event B happened to Character C.
This was, we found, one of the most valuable resources we had in writing the rest of the book. From it, I was able to construct a Chapterisation spreadsheet, ensuring that we did not spend too long on a particular character before cross-cutting back to another plot strand. Seeing the novel in sequential format, each scene now allocated to its appropriate chapter really cemented in us the feeling that this was a proper book; the days of thinking of each section as a separate stand-alone story were gone. This was the biggie.
Now we could start marking them off – one by one, the chapters were filled in. The empty slots were getting fewer and fewer and now, finally, they are all complete.
As I mentioned above, we now have a quarter of a million words of raw narrative material – although the total length of the book is estimated at 190,000 words. Why the drop? Well, about 80% of the way through the writing, we decided that one particular plot strand wasn’t working out – we loved writing it but something just didn’t gel. We were trying to bend too many things to make it fit and the more we bent, the more likely things were to break. The decision to cut it from the book wasn’t taken lightly but neither did we scream, shout or have huge hissy fits. I was heartened by the fact that we agreed so readily – it showed that our collaborative process was in good health.
What are we going to do with it now (apart from take it to FantasyCon and make it sing for its supper?). Well, my next task is to cut up all the individual sections and stories and start to paste them into Word documents, one for each chapter. We should have thirty of these by my reckoning. Once that’s done, I’ll proof-read and copy-edit the lot – no mean feat. It needs to be refined, it needs to be polished, it needs to have all those clever foreshadowing bits put in and (if Stephen King is anybody to listen to) it needs to lose 10% of its words. I reckon we can do that.