On Writing: Even in Peoria – Part 2


My Easter Monday surprise had netted me 2,200 unexpected and unplanned words, and that put me in a quandary.
This was a brand new tale, fresh, bright, vivid, and I had to write it. But I was already writing a novel. I had written between 10,000 – 12,000 words of the First Draft, it was going well, it was an idea I had been working up to writing for the best part of fifteen years (it was, in fact, what would become Tempus Infinitive), and I didn’t want to abandon it.
And I had a tried and tested working method.
For each book, I would plot, carefully and comprehensively, through to the end. I would write the book in longhand, first draft, working all the way through. The second draft was putting the book onto my computer, whilst sorting out the most obvious crap.
The third draft consisted of a print-out, worked over as extensively as necessary with a red pen, after which I’d make all the relevant changes on the computer. The fourth draft consisted of reading the book, identifying areas and sections that felt weak, or wrong, and reworking these as often as necessary until the story was complete.
Based on past experience, that took me about six months. And as this was only the second book of a trilogy, if I continued with this book, it was looking like a year before I could get back to my new story, and I didn’t think it would wait around that long. If I didn’t touch it for that length of time, I doubted I’d be able to get that ‘voice’ back.
Come to that, it had been such an outré experience, could I capture that voice again today?
In the end, it was that which settled it for me. I sat down with pen and paper and prepared to try Chapter 2. Once I’d succeeded in that, the choice was made.
It was completely against all my experience and all my habits. There was no worked out plot: indeed, over the next seven weeks, I would never be able to foresee where the story was going by more than two chapters. I was writing in the third person, which I’d never succeeded in doing before. I was writing a longhand draft and immediately typing it up into the computer, and after a week or so I was starting to make changes to it even as I was transcribing – and I was continuing from where I’d left off: some of this story wasn’t even appearing on paper at all!
Ten days in, I had the chance of a day’s walking in the Lakes: I got close to the hills and found myself pulling in to write an epilogue: a gleefully, anti-cliché epilogue to a story in which the only thing I knew about the ending was that the good guys would win.
Strange things happened. I’d named my female lead Susan in the sleeping bag scene, but when the time came to introduce her name, I called her Daphne Dean (a nod to The Flash, which I was collecting monthly). When the time came to task her with her name, she grumbled that she didn’t like it, and her friends called her Susan, leading everyone to assume it was a middle name.
The story moved on. Geography shaped it, as my leading pair separately and jointly crossed the fells. The sleeping bag scene appeared on the horizon.
When the day came to incorporate it, I re-read it carefully. I now knew who this pair were, where they were, why they were there, what had driven them together unexpectedly, and what was behind their respective actions. Now I would see what changes I had to make to ensure that Easter Monday session fitted in.
There were none. Oh, I hadn’t foreseen that it had been raining, and that my male lead had wet trousers, which necessitated adding half a dozen words to reference this. But everything else fit perfectly. I cut and pasted in amazement. How the hell had I done that?
The story moved on. The pair separated, came back together again, shared the sleeping bag for a second night, squabbled. The chapter ended with Richard falling into the hands of the ‘villain’, coming onstage for the first time. But instead of running, Susan was walking down the hill, surrendering herself to be caught.
It was a another day. I had a business appointment that necessitated me catching the train into Town. As I walked to the station, I was musing on that day’s stage. The villain knew Susan, worked for her father, saw her almost every day. Why then did I know that the first thing he was going to say when she walked up to him, a captive, was “Who are you?”
So. It appeared that my female lead was not who she had been supposed to be all the time. Well, how am I supposed to know, I’m only the writer?
So if Susan wasn’t Daphne, who was she? The answer came relatively quickly, and I was free to move on. As an aside, when I was finished and could read back, there were so many little things in there to support the pretence, even down to Susan’s gradually shifting change in speech patterns, from pretence to her real voice, that exactly supported the revelation, but which were completely unplanned by me.
The story moved on. The end came in sight. I was half-hoping I could finish in seven straight weeks, but a little more was needed.
I finished a chapter one night. From there, I knew where the next, penultimate, chapter had to end, but what concerned me was that there wasn’t much room between start and finish. Basically, I would need about 1,000 words of filler.
That word was a mistake. It raised concerns in my head about what I would have to write: this close to the end, what would ensure this chapter had the right length without waffle or distraction?
I didn’t start writing until 11.00pm, but things went smoothly and I was able to write out the length without sagging or irrelevancy. I reached the end of the chapter at midnight, and immediately turned over the page and began the next chapter. It took me over, I wrote it straight through, hitting the climax about 1.00am.
I still needed one more chapter before I could jump to the Epilogue. But I had a business meeting the following day, so I had to go to bed.
The next morning I set off for my meeting by car. Halfway there, the start of the chapter arrived in my head. I tried scribbling bits down at traffic lights, but they were never on red for long enough. And I couldn’t dismiss it. It demanded to be written down, and it was like a physical pressure in my head that would explode if I didn’t write it.
I ended up having to pull off, scribble some things at furious speed and arrive a bit late. But it would not let me ignore it or leave it.
And then it was written. 75,000 words in 52 days. From nothing. And without a title.

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