Writing, Round 2

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At the end of last week I asked if there were any requests for blog topics. The following request was made:

I’d be interested to hear more about how writing your second novel compared with the first. What was easier, harder, or just different?

In order to answer, I thought I’d go back to my summary of lessons learned when I finished Spiritus and see if I’d actually put them into practice.

1. Know what the characters want.

I certainly paid more attention to this, although probably still not as much as I should. I gave some thought to the end goals of all the primary and secondary characters – something I didn’t do before – but I didn’t think particularly about their day-to-day drives. So, B+/A-, improvement shown but could do better. It certainly made a difference to the plot though, as there are more (re: any) subplots and more small, petty conflicts throughout, making the characters closer to real people.

2. Plan the character arcs in advance.

Hmm. I did it for the protagonist and the antagonist. Didn’t do it for anyone else. Is it necessary to plan the arcs of all secondary characters, do you think? But it did mean that the protagonist and antagonist could develop in a complementary manner which gave the story a nice and usefully illuminating symmetry.

3. Map out chapter contents.

I did do this, along with keeping a record of word count on each chapter. I even wrote the chapters in the correct sequence. This was probably the biggest change to my writing methods, and a massive improvement. At no point was I confused about what was going to happen and I was able to pay much more attention to the pacing. It was, I think, a much easier approach. The downside is that I wrote faster. I don’t mean that I completed the book quicker (although I did, but that was due to other factors), but that I was more brusque in my writing. I tended not to linger on scenes because I always knew what was going to happen next and wanted to get there. As a result, the first draft is less a story and more a very detailed outline. This can easily be fixed in editing, of course, but it’s something to note.

4. Draw a tension graph. 

This sort of came with the chapter outline, really. I didn’t actually do a proper graph in advance although I fully intend to do so now I’m onto editing, just to double-check the pacing.

5. Don’t rely on visual writing. 

Yeah… still my personal weakness. I’m more aware of it and made much more of an effort to include inner monologue in Corpus, helped by the fact that (unlike Spiritus) the protagonist wasn’t an emotional cripple. Still a lot of fixing in post required though. Also, on the other side of ‘visual’, I’m still not very good at remembering to include all the senses. Again, more aware of it and it’s already on my check-list of what to consider during the first round of editing, but another area I could definitely work on improving.

6. Don’t be boring! 

Ah. Well, time will tell. Previously I’ve just written the scenes as and when they occurred to me and were interesting. However, I think that writing the book in chronological order definitely helps to address this. I can’t skip the boring bits so I have to make them interesting. That can only be a good thing.

Corpus isn’t finished yet – there’s still massive amounts of editing to do, and then I have to submit it to the eagle eyes of my beta readers. But looking back on how I wrote Spiritus, I definitely feel like I’ve improved. I have now properly dedicated some time to studying the craft of writing, and had the opportunity to really think about the story I’m trying to tell. Before, I was writing by instinct. Now I can combine that with a smattering of actual technique. I know there’s tons more to learn about but I’ve taken a few steps forward. I hope that’s reflected in Corpus – I guess I’ll find out later in the year when I let other people see it. Fingers crossed!

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One response »

  1. Cool. Structure and planning seems to have been a big overall theme in what’s changed, which is interesting.

    On the character arcs, I certainly don’t plan the arcs for all my secondary characters. Heck, I don’t even plan to include all my secondary characters – sometimes they emerge from incidental necessity into ongoing action. I think it’s useful to be able to adapt their arcs in response to the needs of the main characters.

    And well done to whichever incredibly smart and charming chap asked the insightful question that inspired this post 😉

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