Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Writing the Second Novel

Not the most accurate title as, technically, I don't have a first novel. Not officially, anyhow.

At the time of writing this blog I am now 72,000 words into the new book, Neo Noir.

Why am I writing a new book when Machinations' fate has still to be decided?

As I've said before, this helps steady my nerves while I'm waiting for news. I'm also writing because, well, it's just what I do and I've been aching to get my teeth into this novel for years.

It's fair to say that Neo Noir is a very different beast to Machinations. There are fewer main characters, it tackles different subjects and the rules of the world are very different. I'm glad for all of these things, as they allow me to do very different things with the story that wouldn't have worked in Machinations and after spending so long on one novel with one set of rules its a breath of fresh air to be able to try something new.

So writing this one should be easier right? I have a novel under my belt already and, whether it is published or not, I've learned a great deal while writing it. Surely, NN should flow from brain to page easy as anything.

I'm quickly learning that the answer to that is 'no'. Turns out the process of writing a first draft, any first draft, involves the same worries as before. Does the story work? Would it be better if I added in this or took that out? Will the reader care about the characters? Is the world convincing? etc. etc. etc.

As I get deeper into the story (I think I'm reaching the two-thirds mark but there's no way to be sure) there's more and more I need to change. Ideas occur to me as I write that require me to go back and change things. I'm realising where I need to go away and do some research (mostly for locations and subject matter). There are subjects I've ended up touching on that I hadn't even considered while I was writing my plan and scenes I've written that just need that little spice of detail that only real life can provide. In some cases, there are things and scenes that simply don't work, or need to change if something is to work later. And there are scenes I've written on uninspired days that need to have a re-write on a day when I'm feeling perkier.

You see? All the same problems as before.

Is my writing better than it was? I damn well hope so, the effort I've made, but that's not making writing a first draft any easier, I might have new tools, new techniques and new tricks that I didn't have before Machinations but it all still requires the same process of putting one word after another and trying to see what my brain comes up with, never knowing if the idea in my head will translate onto paper.

In short, I can't wait to finish the first draft and start to edit it, shaving it from a twisted, gnarled stick I found in the forest into a spear that cuts and thrusts. And, if I'm doing this right and continuing to learn, I think it'll be best spear I've ever made.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Writing again - the cycle of abuse continues

So it has been over a month now since the novel went to an agent. I haven't heard anything back but this isn't particularly worrying as a month has never been very long in submission terms. Three months and I'll start to get antsy, six months and then I'll worry.

As I said the last time, the best way to get over the first novel jitters is to start writing the next one. Seeing as how at my writing speed a first draft takes roughly three months and to hear back about a submission (even just to get a rejection) is about the same, it feels a good use of the time. It keeps my hands busy, anyway.

It's been such a long time since I've written a new novel. There have been short stories, certainly, which are very different creatures but I haven't written a novel that wasn't Machinations since...(doesn't bother to check)... 2007? 2008? That's quite a long time.

I can honestly say I've been looking forward to it. I learned a lot from writing and editing Machinations and have learned even more just by reading other people's books. This new book feels like it'll be Freeman 2.0. I want to see how much I've improved. Now, I don't expect writing this one to be any easier, it'll still need a first draft, a second, a third, just so long as it doesn't take me as long as Machinations did.

This story is very different from Machinations, there are fewer characters, the world is bigger, there are things I can do with it that I couldn't with Machinations, simply because to do them in Machinations would have broken it (there are also things I could do in Machinations but not get away with in this new one). The rules to this book are different.

So how do I do it?

Let's start with the title since I can't just keep calling it 'this book'. It's called Neo Noir. I've had this story in my head almost as long as Machinations and I've been aching to commit it to paper.

For the first week I sat with a notepad jotting down all my thoughts; characters, backgrounds, story, history, cool scenes I'd like to include and a chapter-by-chapter plot layout. This was simply downloading the pictures and feelings in my head onto the page and seeing how they looked. Sometimes thoughts that work in your head don't look the same on paper. You see what else needs to be there for the story to make sense. If I want a scene like this, then I need a character like this. And they'd need to have done that, that and that beforehand or it won't work for the reader. If I drop a hint to it around here, then it'll be even better and more of a surprise.

Admittedly for the layout, my notes were a lot more specific for the first few chapters than they were closer to the end. For me, this is fine. I need to get to know my characters as I write them and will have a better idea of how the later chapters work after having seen the characters go through the events of the initial ones.

Then it's writing time. 2,000 words a day is the target. Do that for three months and you have a novel. They might not be the words you'll have in the final version but you're learning as you go. Little ideas occur to you as you write, you knew your character had scars but where exactly are they? You knew there were propaganda posters everywhere but what do they actually say? And why do they say that? The important thing at this stage is to just get the story down. You can change things later.

2,000 words a day takes me roughly an hour and a half. Sometimes I know what the scene is meant to be, sometimes I'm just making it up as I go. A lot of the time it's all just waffle and background and exposition that will never make it into the final draft but it's all occurring to me in real-time and it helps to get it all down.

So how am I getting on? I'm currently at 35,000 words. So, maybe, a third of the way through the story. That's just based on the average novel being 100,000 words long. I honestly don't know how long the story is going to be. I just know it won't be as long as Machinations. This 35k words took me to the end of my specific notes, so I've spent the weekend sat back with my notepad again, taking what I've learned and applying it to the next 35,000. 'What happens next?' I ask myself. And 'What just happened?' Already I can see what I'd change and that goes in the notepad too. Maybe by the time I get to 70,000 words I'll have to sit back down for a second introspective and start thinking about what the end will be. I already know what the end end will be but not some of the details. I don't know how the villain is going to die, for instance, or even if he does die. Or if he does who will kill him? And how will that feed into the wider story?

Guess I'll just have to find out.