I said yesterday that writing Spiritus with a more structured approach has taught me a lot about how to write in future. I’m going to list the main lessons here, primarily so that in six months I don’t end up making all the same mistakes because I forgot. Being blonde has its disadvantages. Much of this sounds pretty obvious, and I think I knew most of it in theory before but didn’t appreciate its absolute necessity. Future self – you need to do this!
1. Know what the characters want. Work the immediate and long-term goals of every character out in advance. This helps give every scene and the overall story a strong direction, tension, challenges and character arcs.
2. Plan the character arcs in advance. They’ll change, but work something out during planning stages. I didn’t do this for Spiritus, and trying to retrofit is a pain. Don’t forget the bad guys!
3. Map out chapter contents. Until now I’ve had a fairly slap-dash approach to this. The basic plot is in my head and I’ll write down bits as they turn up. This is fine for playing around but a serious writing project needs a much more structured approach.
4. Draw a tension graph. This helps with pacing as well as plot – literally draw a line graph over chapters of where the peaks and troughs in the tension should be, and make sure you end up with a building wave.
5. Don’t rely on visual writing. My personal weakness. Writing the action is all well and good, but remember to put some emotion and personalization in there. Especially if writing in first person (which I will be for the foreseeable future).
6. Don’t be boring! In the past, I have written scenes here and there as they appealed to me and then gone back to fill in the boring bits. But if I’m bored, then the scene will be boring and the reader will be bored too. This is Not Good. Take out those boring bits, restructure them entirely or stack them with another scene, to make sure that every part of the story is interesting.
Basically, writing a proper book needs more work in the planning stages than I have hitherto given it. Again, sounds obvious but it’s something I had to find out for myself.
One piece of advice that I’ve frequently read and ignored is to start as close in to the action as possible – preferably just after it’s started. I can totally see where they’re coming from but I don’t think this is applicable to all books. Slow build books are equally valid (I’m going to cite Jane Eyre again as an excellent example), and for some voices or genres instant action would feel wrong. So I’m going to continue to break this rule, at least for a bit longer.