As you know, I’ve spent much of the past year completing my first novel. This has been a venture I’ve been undertaking intermittently, with activity ranging from deep thinking to bursts of drafting. It’s been a long journey since I first put pen to paper in August 2012 and started scribbling what I thought would be my “opening scene”.
A lot has changed since then. In fact my “opening scene” doesn’t appear anywhere in my novel. As I scrawled and scribbled it has now been relegated to an idea for my second (or possibly third) book..sequels to my current work. The work therefore hasn’t been wasted. In fact, it has helped with character development and back story. Without this scene I would never have come up with the basic premise of the series… no I’m not going to tell you, you’re going to have to wait for publication…and know where it’s heading.
I’ve therefore seen tangible benefits to opening a notebook (or your laptop) and just letting the words flow. It’s very much how I approached my first novel and without doing so I’m not sure I would have been able to complete that important initial first draft. After all, you can only edit what you have!
However, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this will only get you so far. Editing has proved challenging. My first draft seemed a little disjointed and it wasn’t always clear how I could best factor in the important information which the reader needed. Sometimes the characters didn’t seem “real”, as the mechanisms to show motivations or convey background information weren’t fully in place. Everything was in my head, I knew the characters… it was all from my heart… but I couldn’t expect the reader to make the same connections.
This is where Beta reading can be really useful.
I shared the first few chapters of my first draft with a friend of mine; someone who I knew would be impartial and had a good eye for detail. She’s an avid reader and an excellent writer so I knew I could trust and value her opinion. After three chapters, her view was “I like it, I like the first person….but”. The but preceded some of the best critique I could have – it was ideas – full of “I wonder if”, “Had you considered this?”, “maybe this could work”. There was no judgement, just a sounding board talking back and it was great. It challenged some of my thoughts on the main protagonist but also some of the “rules” I thought I should stick to. Hell, why not, mix up the voice of the storyteller – one minute our heroine, the next our “villain” or an impartial observer? I’ve not taken on board all of these suggestions as ultimately they were just thoughts, but every single one of them got me thinking. [Thank you Helen Rose, without your support and encouragement I would never have got this far!]
Since that sunny afternoon in Nando’s, I’ve been working hard on my manuscript. I think I’ve got the substantive bit nailed and I’ve now shared it with a couple of Beta Readers (one is the fantastic Nicholas C Rossis… a wonderful sci fi author who you should read if you get a chance) and it has been such a positive experience. In addition to picking up lots of typos which two rounds of proof reading failed to spot, I’ve had excellent feedback on what’s worked and what hasn’t. I must say, I’ve found the whole thing a fantastic learning experience!
One of the major benefits of having a Beta Reader look at the draft is a reality check – are the characters believable, do you understand why they are doing what they are doing (even if you may not agreed with it), is it well paced. In my piece I have a number of characters from different parts of the world and while I may understand the nuances of the dialect and colloquialisms, I can’t expect that all readers will. This is key if you want to appeal to a global audience.
So where am I now?
Well, I’m currently working my way through my Beta readers comments and hope to be in a position to finish this draft soon. I then need to consider what I do with it. I’m seriously considering trying to find an agent but I’m realistic and I know that few new writers get representation or a publisher. I may look to self publishing but if I do go down that route I want the second book in the series to be well underway.
So, although I’ve yet to finalise this writing project, I also need to start planning for my second book. There are already some thoughts floating about up there in my brain but I need to get it down on paper. But I’ve learned some valuable lessons from my previous “stream of consciousness” drafting, which I’ve mentioned previously. The one is, as mentioned, sharing your work early. Get someone to Beta read it, share it with as many people as possible and approach feedback with an open mind. The other, is that planning, definitely has a place.
Next Saturday, I’m going to be posting about high level planning and how I’m approaching the research and preparation for my second book. You may be surprised where I’ve got some of my tips from so watch this space!