My writing – going back to basics 4)

signFor those that have been following my blog recently you’ll know that I have signed up for the on-line master class series by the best-selling thriller writer James Patterson.  Now, thrillers are not my thing but the guy has sold millions of books world-wide so knows a thing or two about writing successful commercial fiction.  I’m nearing the end now so what’s changing.

Well I never was a great planner, I tended to write and then see where it took me, which I know works for some people.  However, I think especially for the self-publisher that planning of every scene can add real value.  We perhaps can’t afford the luxury of in-depth and repeated editing.  So working on those scenes, the order, the twists and the impact, in detail before you start the writing I think is a winner.

The planning allows you to see how the plot is going to work.  If you make changes as you write you can see what impact that’s going to have and plan accordingly  My latest book is a detective story with a supernatural element to it.  I’ve already seen where it doesn’t flow, where I’ve caused myself problems.  I moved scenes I want to keep, I’ve deleted scenes that don’t fit.  I’ve deleted a character and changed some scenes to help with the story flow.  As new ideas, twists and improvements come to mind I can see how they will fit in and what further changes must be made to accommodate them.  It gives me that overview I think I was missing.

Naturally for James (I think I know him well enough now to call him that) as it should be for any other writer, editing (as in redrafting) is a major part of the process. He admits he might go through as many as ten drafts.  His point here is that it’s not that you’ve made mistakes, rather it’s all about improving.  The recommendation is don’t polish until you’ve done most of the story revision.  I understand this as polishing is always tempting, however, I think it’s a distraction, those first few revisions should be all about getting the story right not refining the prose.  If you become too attached to the prose it can be harder to make that ‘I must cut this section’ decision.  The questions to keep in mind are:  Is this making the scene work?  Are these chapters keeping the story moving?  Is this dialogue dragging?   As he puts it ‘pace pays the bills’.

MarketFor me this is the most difficult part of writing, making that decision to take something out.  I write the story fairly fast so if anything in those first few revisions I’m usually looking to add detail or colour as I would call it.  Maybe I need to leave that until later in the process i.e. when I have the story down to the point where I feel it really works, then I can make those additions (without of course spoiling the flow).

Perhaps the other problem I have with editing is that I have been told and read many times that ‘if it doesn’t move the story along take it out’.  I feel this almost a writing cliché.  I don’t want a story to be always going 100 mph.  I want to take a breath every now and then.  I call it story punctuation and in the right places it can be compelling, although I know it can be over-done.   I also feel that variation in pace is important both in the story and the writing itself.  The ‘slower’ parts giving more emphasis to the all out action.

Hmm, lots to think about and try which is a good thing.  Sometimes I think it’s all too easy to stick to what you’ve always done.  So here’s to trying new approaches.  They may or may not work, but as I said in my first blog on this subject, what have I got to lose other than my several hundred thousandth place on Amazon rankings.

As always comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

2 thoughts on “My writing – going back to basics 4)”

  1. “Refining the prose” is the last step in anything I write. I read at a pace that’s slow enough so that i can catch any intuitive response that says something like, “There’s something not quite right here.” That is always the case! The change that’s needed is usually just a word, inserting a better one or deleting it.

    1. I know what you mean – some words or phrases just ‘jar’. Also sometimes small corrections in one place upset the balance elsewhere.

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