After three months, and my first Beta Reader's stamp of approval, I can finally say with some certainty that my fourth novel is finished. Finito, completo. Sure, I'll have to make some small editorial fixes, but the design, layout, plot, story, everything, is ready for others to read. Considering how my first trilogy took me seven years to pull together, I thought it'd be interesting to push myself to come up with a concept, map it out, write it, and edit it for publication in under three months. And by gum, I have! Here's how:
I'M ALWAYS LEARNING ABOUT THE ART OF STORYTELLING
One would never know, but I based my four main characters in my new book off of Jungian Archetypes. I'm fascinated with how stories tick. I love reading about the hero journey, about dramatic structures and archetypes. I believe that writing is sort of like alchemy. There are bits that work together, and always have, due to some very elemental workings of the mind and literature. It's a separate study, surely, and if a writer relies too much on formula their work is repetitious and boring, but like they say, once you know the rules, then you can break them.
I PONDERED THE PLOT FOR WEEKS
On the bus, on the beach, when there was downtime at work. Anytime I could iron out wrinkles in my idea, or add new ones to it, I would. Everything I read, every movie I watched, every interaction I watched, I tried to look for ideas to weave into my story. I knew where I was headed, that I wanted something in a science-fiction vein, and that giant dinosaur-like animals would be fun, but at the beginning, it's all I had. By slowly building the story up everyday in my head, I was able to work out the general plot. I know a lot of people like taking extensive notes, but I find that when I do that I commit to "lesser" ideas. I figure, if I don't remember it, it wasn't worth remembering and doesn't belong in my super-memorable story (ha).
I OUTLINED ONCE I WAS READY
Some people swear against it, but after my meandering experience with Slate Ahn and the Books of Knowledge, I wanted to try something different. Without an outline, my first trilogy was an exercise in making ends meet, meaning that coming up with new plot for that story was really difficult. It made for a lot of bending over backwards to make characters, places, and plot points stick together. It was fun, like a collage almost, but it was trying. Coming back to chapters I hadn't seen for years certainly made the process difficult. Working on The Vanished Colony with an outline, I found writing to be much easier. I wrote out a small synopsis of what was to happen in each chapter, and drew a little map to illustrate it. I still let the characters dictate how scenes played out, but knowing where the whole thing was headed kept my storytelling concise and clear. And there weren't a bunch of loose ends to tie up!
WRITE EVERY DAY
That old chestnut. It's hard sometimes, but it really works. For me, it didn't have to be the same time everyday. I would warm up by writing an installment of one of my serials for my blog, and then finish a whole chapter of the book, no matter what. Well, to be honest, some days I felt like I was pulling teeth, and I knew my writing was less than effervescent, and so I just stopped when it came to staring dumbly at my computer screen. This was rare, though. Most days, I drank my coffee and wrote, no matter what. It worked for me, despite some days feeling less-than-clever, because of the most important step, the next:
IT'S ALL IN THE EDITING
My book was finished, save for the last chapter, when I started to edit it. Twenty-three days after put the first word down. I left the last chapter open, because I wanted to see how I felt about it after going back through the whole story. And then I worked at ten pages a day, correcting grammatical errors. All the way through the book I spell-checked and re-wrote, sometimes whole pages, often just sentences a chapter. And then after the first edit I went back through again, chapter-by-chapter, to make sure the flow of the chapters was right, and to add flourishes. This second time, I cut out the superfluous chunks, those ideas and themes I had already dealt with in a more satisfying way in other sections of the book. And then I gave it to my Beta-Reader, who continued to make edits and gave me recommendations and suggestions. Thankfully, she didn't think the whole thing had to be re-written.
And so here I am, with my next book done. And it's pretty neat! I can't believe it myself, really. The new novel is a little shorter than my others, but I'm still happy with it. This technique has produced a very fleet, fast-moving, economical novel. And my Beta Reader said she likes it better than my first three books, which took me forever! So go figure.
What does this all mean? Am I going to try to write my next book in one and a half months? No way. In fact, I plan on taking longer, as it's going to be a much longer work, and I want a different feel to it. More ponderous. Maybe some people can do ponderous quickly, but not me. Besides, when all is said and done, I think I enjoyed writing my other books more. Living with the ideas for years, thinking about the characters for as long, growing with them. I'm not trying to crank out work for a deadline, or even a publisher. I self-publish, so I can take as long as I want. Hopefully I'll have twenty books by the time I'm fifty. And maybe one of them will be good enough to submit to a publishing house, if those exist then. Neat thing about authors is that they have their whole life to build an audience. I'm in no hurry. I just love writing and sharing.
We'll see, though. Maybe now that I've revved up my writing engine, I'll not be able to slow it back down!
THE VANISHED COLONY is out in early September.