Last week I completed the first draft of Scarborough Book Two. It still needs a title! I’ve put it to one side this week because it’s good to let manuscripts rest and also because it’s the spring half term holiday so the children are home from school. The first draft came in at just over 60,000 words. My books are normally around 80,000 words so there’s still a lot to do, but I’m not worried because my first drafts are always short.
I was listening to The Story Grid podcast the other day with Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne. Tim is writing his first novel and he was worried because he could see that the first draft was going to come in below target. In his book On Writing Stephen King says that the second draft should be the first draft minus ten percent. But that only works if you write too much in the first draft. It clearly doesn’t stack up if your first drafts, like mine and Tim’s, are short.
Stephen King is the kind of writer who writes too much and then has to trim it back. I’m just not that sort of writer. That’s not to say that I don’t cut things out. But I tend to cut out scenes that aren’t working as I go along. As well as my 60,000 word draft, I also have a folder in Scrivener with 10,000 words’ worth of cut scenes. My 60,000 words will eventually grow to 80,000 words for all sorts of reasons, such as:
- There are characters and character relationships that are under-developed.
- There are plot threads that need more build-up and added complications.
- There are scenes of high drama and tension that need drawing out so that they deliver their full potential.
- There are people and places that are not adequately described.
Once I start tackling all of the above in the next draft, you’d be amazed at how quickly the word count grows. Next week when I get back to work my first task will be to reverse engineer a detailed outline and then, working with the outline, decide what changes need to be made.
May was a good month for reading. I enjoyed After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell. The novel tells the story of Alice Raikes who travels to Scotland to visit her family, but when she gets there she witnesses something so shocking that she insists on returning to London immediately. A few hours later, she is lying in a coma after an accident that may or may not have been a suicide attempt. The novel cleverly interweaves past and present and multiple points of view, telling the story of Alice’s childhood, her college years and the story of how she met and fell in love with John, as well as the stories of her family.
At first I felt that Mr Mercedes by Stephen King was rather cold. I didn’t warm to the character of Bill Hodges the way I warmed immediately to the character of Ralph Roberts in Insomnia. I compare the two because they’re both retired men, well past their prime, who find themselves thrown into extraordinary events. They both have to overcome the problems of old age and act heroically. However, once Bill was out of his armchair and engaged in hunting down the Mercedes Killer, he became a much more likeable hero. King writes a brilliant nail-biting finale to this thriller. What started out feeling a bit dry, turned into a real page-turner.
In a completely different vein is The Fifth Voice by Paul Connolly. This book appealed to me because it’s about four men who form a barbershop quartet. It’s also set in Berkshire where I used to live. It’s a wonderful comic novel with some very touching scenes as each of the four singers confront problems in their own lives. The writing style is pitch perfect (sorry for the terrible pun!) If you’re not sure what barbershop singing sounds like, I found this terrific video on YouTube:
It’s exam season here in the UK. Our eldest son is in the middle of his GCSEs, the exams that all sixteen-year-olds sit, and our youngest son had school exams last week which meant finding lots of opportunities to practise conjugating French irregular verbs. Je suis, tu es, il est….etc. Good job we’re not going to France this year though because the whole country seems to be on strike. À bientôt!
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