Beyond the Wall, Part One: The Heretic by Lucas Bale - Analysing a Writer's Process
A little while ago, I posted the first of many Indie author interviews to come on this blog. It was a real honour to kick off that series with an interview with Jessica Gollub about her debut YA science-fiction novel, Mark of the Hummingbird. It's a really great book by a wonderful Indie author and you should download the sample for yourself and see whether it suits your tastes. It's well worth a look.
In the second post in the series, it was always my intention to outline my own processes and essentially answer the same questions – maybe with a little tweaking. My first novel, The Heretic, is due out in July. Here's a series synopsis:
First Draft and Research
I should say that I don’t really have a process yet. I am new to the craft, learning all the time and flexing my newly discovered muscles. I tend to plan for a while—perhaps a month or so—interspersing writing odd scenes as inspiration strikes me whilst I am undertaking that process. For The Heretic, I spent months outlining the world I wanted to write in and the chronology of events which led humanity to the position it finds itself in at the beginning of the novel. When I’m ready, and the plot is outlined to my satisfaction, I’ll get on with writing scene after scene, usually in order. Also, I tend to edit sequences after they’ve been written rather than waiting for the end of the first draft. I find this easier as I am still finding my own voice. So, rather like the response to a question I was asked in a recent interview, I see my writing process like meandering along an ancient, crumbling viaduct with the flank of the edge falling away into mist, with a compass which only works half the time but having half-memorised the map beforehand.
As I’ve said, I plan pretty assiduously. I am currently working on the outline for the second book in the Beyond the Wall series. However, because the themes are central to the whole series, as well as individual books, and there is quite a bit of world-building going on, I find it easier to have a solid outline which I can depart from if I like or change when I want. I like to work out where the inciting incident is located; where the hook is (and whether it works); where the key event is; which scenes make up sequences and that there are escalations within those scenes and sequences which get progressively stronger; where each Act ends and so on. However, I do tend to change things. In one novel I wrote recently, an important character who I envisaged being around at the end of the novel, died at the end of Act One. I didn’t see it coming until I wrote the scene (not The Heretic, by the way...).
I generally have an idea for a story and I tend to develop the idea first. If it revolves around a character, I deal with characterisation and deep character first, then flesh out the character with a backstory, motivations, dramatic needs and so on. I work out how the character will react to certain key situations in the story. I may even think about physical and mental (and emotional) traits at this point. If the story does not yet have a lead, I work on the feasibility of the story and how it might develop. I never, ever, write first because I have always found it distracts me and whatever I have written is invariably useless later. So I get my thoughts in order first. I use Scrivener to do this—I try to work on Scrivener as much as possible as my principal tool.
I consider research to be absolutely fundamental. I refuse to put stuff out there that I do not believe in because other won’t believe in it either. As I write thrillers too, under the pseudonym Marcus Cameron, and as my background is as a criminal prosecutor, I know a lot about the genre I write in but the small details are also essential. I find that a speculative email or phone call, or calling old friends in the job, are both good ways to get your facts right. Dramatic licence only gets you so far. Also, good research often leads to key story strands which you might never have thought of otherwise. When writing sci-fi, research is also important—theoretical physics, mechanical engineering, architecture and structural engineering, climatology, biology, regional history, geopolitical theory—these are all areas I have had to research for the Beyond the Wall series.
Books, internet, speaking to colleagues I work with, speculative emails—they all work. I ask myself a question and go find a bunch of answers and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Or there is an expert in the field willing to talk to you. I find most people are willing to help if they think you are genuine and you explain you want to get your facts right for a work of fiction.
First Draft: generally, if I have a full day to write and the research is mostly done, then I sit down at my desk and let it come out. I’ll have worked out the essence of a scene in advance, and the themes running through the story as a whole, so by that time I can just let my fingers run riot. I write until I need another tea, I go and make myself a cup, then I start writing again. I only stop when I know I need to. There’s a point where my brain just simply folds its arms and shuts down. I know that’s it. Generally, it’s around somewhere between three and five thousand words in any 24hr period. Sometimes, I’ll revisit that scene or scenes the next day, just to see how I think it’s going. Or I’ll just do the same thing again—this is really easy for me if the research and preparation has been solid.
My own personal editing is a mixture. Sometimes I’ll write three or four scenes before editing. Sometimes, I’ll edit a single scene the next day. I find that I like to edit on Scrivener once or twice before downloading it to my Kindle/iPad Mini and reading it there—that’s the ideal place for me to edit.
I’ll edit repeatedly—perhaps eight or ten times—then I’ll send it off to a friend of mine who is my developmental and copyeditor. He’s a screenplay and script writer and I find his editing tightens my work up considerably. Then I’ll work on it again until I am happy with it. Then he’ll take another copyediting run at it to pick up any other errors we both might have missed. We might run a few emails back and forth about character and plot in between.
This is the key point about my processes—I edit several times myself but I also want professionals to edit the manuscript too. I may not want a full developmental edit as my skills progress but I will certainly look for line and copyediting. I think, for me, it is essential that I put out work I consider to be the best I can achieve at a given time. Editing is part of that. It is not for everyone and many will have no need of it—Jessica, for example. The Heretic has yet to be edited—it goes to David Gatewood, Hugh Howey's editor, in May. In relation to the my crime writing, Roz Morris will be editing that. I run both past a superb editor who's a personal friend, Mark Roberts.
I'm a reasonable photographer but I'm no designer. I know what looks good on a cover but have no clue how to replicate it or, more importantly, create something which resonates with the themes of my own work. So I'm getting someone else to do it instead. Jason Gurley. I completed a questionnaire for him, giving him as much information as possible on the series, and he starts work next month. Cover reveals to come soon!
All of my marketing considerations are in a post I wrote recently which proved to be very popular. Essentially, I am building a mailing list (using Mailchimp, which I recommend for beginners) to which I send out irregular newsletters to keep interested people updated on my work and when it will be coming out, as well as books I'm reading which I think they will like. I connect with the wider world at large through Twitter and Facebook and perhaps even Google+. Mainly, however, it's through this blog. Anyone interested in my work, my thoughts, my processes and who wants to comment on anything I have said—they can do so here.
I intend to publish on Amazon KDP initially, with hardcopies through CreateSpace. Once I have a sense of the lie of the land, I'll move onto Kobo and Smashwords etc. I may even approach some independent booksellers in my area to see if they'd like to stock my work.
Mostly, I think it's about making your work discoverable, rather than pushing it on others and about connecting with people who want to connect with you and enjoy your work.
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Next interview to come: WJ Davies, the superb author of the Binary series and fan-fiction from Hugh Howey's Wool world.