Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Bones

I flew back from Japan to the U.K. yesterday, having spent two weeks with my in-laws. My trips to Japan usually involve a lot of writing. Once upon a time I managed to get 40,000 words of The Binary Man done in ten days, but this time was a little different, and not only because we've got the kids now (the 'time machines', due to their ability to drain it in the happiest way possible). My word count was a demure 6,000, give or take. Why? Well, I was looking at the bones.

I've always resisted studying the structure of stories. I did learn a bit about it at University in the most superficial of ways, and found that even this half-hearted approach still sucked all of the potential magic out of reading a book. It broke my immersion. I felt the same when writing. Better to get the story out, as fast and as enthusiastically as possible, because that way it'll be more raw. And it was. But raw is only good in sashimi and wrestling.

I've been throwing out first drafts, and thinking of them as finished. Sure, sometimes I would get a glimpse of something decent, when a few parts fell in the right places, but it was luck rather than judgement, if I'm honest. And then I wonder why my books don't sell. It's like making a baked potato. You can do it in the microwave, and you'll have the same ingredients (pomme de terre, buerrefromage, lovely jubbly), but there's something missing in the flavour. If you give it an hour in the oven, it develops nuances and textures that weren't there before. It comes together. It melts, rather than flaking.

So I picked up a few books, and read how others did it. You know, successful authors. I looked at exposition, leading to rising action, to climax (oh myyy), to falling action, and then I compared that structure to the books I loved. It worked! It fitted. And I never saw them, I never saw the bones that held the body of work up. 

I laid out a plan. I worked out events, characters, a setting, and left enough room for the story to jiggle about a bit as the characters' personalities begin to assert themselves (always an exciting moment). It's going to be a thriller. It has a different narrative voice to my usual one, even my usual first person voice, which means cutting words that don't fit, and explaining things in a different way so that they work for the character. It's not going to be the most original story out there, but I don't think that matters this time. This story is about me learning how to write, how to build the skeleton, before I hide it in the meat of a (hopefully decent) read. I'm keeping most of the details secret. I've only told a snippet of the plot to one person (my soon to be brother-in-law), and I stopped myself quickly. I'm not getting that hot potato out of the oven until it's done. I'm going to draft, re-draft, cut, and be mercenary. 

It'll be the best damn potato I've ever baked. I hope you enjoy it.