Saturday, May 30, 2020
How I write a book
This is mine.
How it starts
I get an idea. It could be completely random, or inspired by something I've read. With Songbird, I read in a bio of Henry VIII that he once bought a child for the royal choir, and off I went. With my current project, A Wider World, it features a secondary character from Songbird, who, after that book was submitted to the publisher, decided to speak up and say he hadn't gotten a fair shake, and he wanted to explain himself. I listened.
Below is how I went about writing A Wider World. The numbers in parentheses are the word count when the draft was completed.
First Draft (134,000 words)
Some writers can write and edit at the same time, or write something, come back the next day to edit, and then keep on. My problem is that I enjoy the editing process, so I get lost if I do this. My first drafts, while not garbage, are pretty rough. For the most part, I don't write in linear fashion. I try to write the beginning, at least the first few chapters, to establish my characters and what's happening. (The events may change later, but I need to get them down).
From there, I try to write in order, but if I'm stuck and can see another scene clearly, I'll write that and then try to link the scenes together later. By the time I've written the first third of the book, I know the ending. If I'm feeling really clear, I'll write the ending, and give myself something to work toward.
The first draft of A Wider World took me about 8 months, and part of the reason it went that quickly is I was working with a world already developed in the first book. I needed to research specific things, but I don't always research as I write. There'll be a sentence like "Hawkins and I sat down to a meal of [whatever people of that level of society would serve unexpected guests]" and I'll keep going.
Second Draft (128,000 words)
This is the fun part, where I fix the structure of the book - plot, chronology, cross-checking history, fleshing out characters who are a bit transparent, doing research to fill the holes I've left. Second draft is heavy lifting and rearranging, but by the end, it gives me something that has the shape of the idea I had when I started out. This draft took me about 1.5 months.
Third Draft (120,000 words)
Cutting, shaping, and molding. This is the round where the book loses some serious weight, where I read it to see how many times I've mentioned the same thing (the problem with writing out of order is including necessary information whenever it seems necessary - but it's not necessary every time. I just won't know that until later). I also remove excess dialog tags, filter words (knew, realized, felt, etc.) and other bits that, while clever, only make me happy and do nothing to advance the story.
Another thing I've noticed with early drafts is that I hit the end of a scene or a chapter, and then I tend to dribble on for another paragraph or two, summing up. Those paragraphs are never necessary, and I can remove a lot of excess just looking for those. This draft took about another month.
Fourth Draft (hoping for 118,000 words)
This is where I am now, and this is where I read the book aloud, to see how it flows, to listen for repetitive words or words that need to be swapped for ones that sound better. This is a faster round than any of the others, because it's really just the final polishing before it gets submitted to my publisher for their editors to give it a once-over. I'm hoping to have this finished by early June, but my reading aloud may be slowed by the fact that lawn care on my block seems to be near-constant and I can't always hear myself think, much less read.
With Songbird, the publisher's suggestions were mostly about removing Britishisms and comments on my abiding love for the em-dash, but we'll see this time, because Songbird had been worked on for so long that if it was my child, it would be accruing student debt. A Wider World has been a much faster process, because I've learned that I can do it.
So that's it. That's how I write a book. At least until next time, when I'll probably turn the procedure completely upside-down.