Novel Writing Process Can Have a Steep Learning Curve

Novel Writing Process

All my published work is either short fiction or non-fiction. I had no idea there would be such a learning curve in getting my first novel ready for publication. But it has been a steep one!

Illustration by DLSproule

I've spent much of the past eight months feeling secretly embarrassed that I went to all the bother of rounding up a whole group of great beta readers, telling them that my novel, Avenging Glory, would be ready to send them by March, 2018 – May, at the absolute latest. Now, here we are, just before Christmas, and I'm still not quite ready to send it. It won't even happen in the same year!

A bad case of premature anticipation. Sometimes, I wonder if I do it to myself deliberately. Sometimes, I'm almost certain that I do.

I willingly sacrifice my integrity to the gods of productivity.

Sometimes I set myself unreasonable deadlines, as incentive to work hard to reach a goal. If I make no promises, then there are no stakes. It’s not a real deadline. If I do, I either look incompetent for breaking promises, or dishonest for making promises I cannot keep. 

Perhaps I need novel therapy to relieve me of my unreasonable expectations and help be build up stamina to win the long game.

I feel like a construction foremen on a badly off-schedule site, with a checklist of excuses. The ground froze up early and we couldn't get the re-bar we needed, and there was a strike at the marble quarry, and the price of the toilet just tripled, so we're trying to get a cheaper toilet.

Between the second and third drafts, I figured out that in order to make the novel work, I would need to restructure the whole thing, making the chronology more linear and getting rid of the flashbacks-within-flashbacks. I set to work and really did get that finished by the end of May, but what resulted was something I didn't really want anybody to read. (Well, except for Derryl, but I'll leave that story/thank you for a future blog post)

I had a pretty workable third draft finished by June, but the restructuring process had opened up a whole bunch of gaps and a few overlaps between scenes that were suddenly sitting side-by-side. And along with messiness and weird continuity, the restructuring had thrown the rhythm off completely. A novel requires a distinctive flow and juxtaposition between things like dialogue and exposition; fast and slow sections; point-of-view switches; dark & light; cerebral & action packed. Adjustments needed to be made. June turned into July into August. (This is where I thank Laura and Sally - but I'll save that for another Blog Post too!)

When I finished that in early September, I realized that a important story thread had been allowed to simply go missing. The novel had started on the shoulders of a character named Raine, but he had dropped back to supporting character status over the course of the revisions. And filling out his story arc required me to write an additional 20 - then 40 thousand words.

When I completed that draft in November, I at least had the sense to realize that all the new material is still only second draft,while the rest of the book is at third draft. And length is presenting itself as a concern - whether it's actually a problem or an opportunity remains to be seen. Parts one and two combined, form Book 1, which is sitting at just under 55 thousand words.

And I wanted someone very familiar with computers to fact check and ensure that my computer science is at lest passable. (It's in the hands of Do-Ming and Jill now). And I'm polishing and tightening in book two until I get a better idea of how much more work book one needs.

With a strong enough ending, it could quite easily grow into a solid first book of a two book series! Of course, if I do expand it, I probably won't be ready to send out the betas until Mar of 2019. March. Yes, I know I've said this before. But this time, I promise. It's set in stone. Of course, it could be soapstone rather than granite - something nice and flexible. 

I am told that the process is different for every novel. I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing. Does that mean a new learning curve each time? Ay yi yi. The good news is that when I'm done this one, I will have essentially finished two books! I'll do all that I can to ensure it's worth the wait. Until then, all I can do is give you a taste here and there. For instance, here's the opening page of Book 2:

Hope was a city of wonders and of grief, of commerce and industry, of science and unquestioning piety – separated from the outside world by the sheer mountains on either side of the Fraser Canyon and the dense, forbidding Carnivorous Forest that filled the Cock‘n’Halo Valley from Silver Mountain all the way to Loop City.
Like most of the twenty-or-so other kids on the tomb-sponsored trip into the city, Psalma had heard about Hope her whole life, but had never actually been here.  Its magnificence was not overstated.
Their host was the Executrix’s own Chief Engineer, Ephrem, the Boy Wonder, who – looking younger than some of  his adolescent guests – didn’t seem a likely candidate for chief of anything.
Ephrem was as handsome as rumoured, and then some. Smart and kind and confident. The way he gazed at her with those deep green eyes, made her wobbly in the knees. Whenever he passed through the company of kids, he would be trailed by a stream of giggling and gossip, from boys and girls alike.
Having never seen a building taller than three stories, Psalma, like most of the other kids, was awed by The Tomb of the Testator – built in tiers up the southwestern slope of Thacker Mountain, so that it looked like a single 15 story structure – topped with a massive spire. The dense Carnivorous Forest that grew alongside it, provided a dramatic demarcation between wildness and civilization – all glass and stone and concrete on one side and leafy jungle on the other. Between the forest and the human realm, ran the Executrix’s electric fence. Mimsey said it started at Union Bar Power Plant, came over Iwantit Ridge to the Othello Gate in the East and continued to the great Popgun Gate in the South, crackling with enough energy to fry anything that touched it.

About the Commenters:
Along with being my Twitter guru, Derryl is a brilliant fiction writer. You can get a wee sample on his Wattpad page https://www.wattpad.com/user/DerrylRitchie. And if you make a comment and tell him how much you'd love to read his Novel in Progress, Divine Youngblood, he'll probably be happy to add you to his list of potential beta-readers. It won't be next month - but you can never be too early.

Comments

  1. Your dedication to the craft is truly inspiring. You've produced (essentially two) highly original novels of outstanding quality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And you've provided much of the inspiration to help me do that - along with the help getting my Twitter profile growing. It's very hard for any artists to make much progress all by themselves and you are the backbone of my support network. Can't thank you enough!

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  2. My own feeling is that the process should, at least to some extent, be different every time. If it isn't, I'm not really learning anything.

    ReplyDelete

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