As some of you may or may not know, I’m in the middle of writing a book. I’ve spoken about doing this for a long time and have started well over a dozen since I was seventeen (hard to believe this has been a dream of mine for half my life now) but I have never gone further than the first chapter and some rather lofty plans for writing the best book in the world. Something always distracts me at that point. The details are always different but it comes down to one thing in the end – I have a fear of failure. It is this fear that has driven me to work hard at everything that I do and force myself into a position where I could be one of the best in whatever my business was. I recognise that and have been dealing with it for half my life. Sometimes it seems like a blessing, and other times it weighs on me like a curse.
Working at being the best is not the same as faking it
The thing is, since I’ve been writing this page (well, not actually this page, but the page I’m copying my articles over from to this site) I’ve been able to deal with some of my problems a little better. Finding an audience who enjoyed my writing and becoming quite popular on the original site so quickly gave me a confidence and helped that part of me who needs to be one of the best to rest easy. With that pressure off me I was able to concentrate on writing for me rather than for an audience, and I found a voice pretty quickly. Finding that voice helped me find confidence that I didn’t even know I’d lost. It seems strange that someone who set themselves up to be the best so often should have low confidence, but I have had for a long time and have only really come back into myself in recent years. Once I no longer had to act certain ways to be the best (which always allowed me to assign any positive reactions to not being myself), I was able to truly rise as the person I am and learn to like that person too. He’s neat.
Anyway, yadda yadda confidence, yadda yadda slight mental problems, yadda yadda book. I actually first set pen to paper (well, thumb to touchscreen actually) on June 16th this year. I thought you’d be interested to know how I’m getting on after two months of writing, on and off.
That’s right, I have other hobbies too
The book is currently at 48,614 words not counting chapter headings and the like. At that length it is officially an adult novel (no, not porn) as anything above 40,000 words is considered the correct length for a novel aimed at adults. For those wondering, 20,000 is considered about right for a children’s or young adult novel, and 80,000 or more is considered an epic. To put what I’ve written into context, without any chapter or paragraph breaks I’ve written over a hundred and ninety pages of pure text (assuming the book is a pulp paperback with around 250 words to a page). Not bad for an idea that started out as a six page story for this page (I never did get that into a publishable state at that length) and I’m not finished yet. I estimate about eighty five percent of the first edit is written now and I have outlines in place for what happens in the rest of it. Still, it hasn’t been all good.
I have a problem with dialogue. Let me rephrase that; I have a problem with written dialogue (also semi-colons so if the one in this sentence is used correctly it’s purely coincidental). I’m actually quite good at talking in real life to the point that the Friday I stopped for a breath is considered one of the new wonders of the modern world and is being covered in a BBC documentary called The Sudden Silence. The problem is that when I’m writing, all dialogue either feels stilted or unrealistic and the reason this happens is because of who I am and how I see the world.
When my dialogue seems unrealistic it’s because it is written in my voice, with my own particular way of saying things and mind for tangents. Similarities are remarked on in funny ways, connections are noted in strange and wonderful fashions, and the dialogue has no problem heading off in odd directions. While this has actually given me a few ideas for small subplots it isn’t suited to realistic dialogue. One person can be like that in a conversation, as I regularly am, but when two go that way the conversation goes nowhere fast and comes across as unrealistic. I need to find that other voice to balance out the conversations that my characters are having. And that’s where the stilted dialogue comes in. When I’m writing this stuff and trying to not show my own bizarre wit in the dialogue it comes across as a little boring and unrealistic. It doesn’t flow well at its worst and has almost no ability to change subjects without going on a three page roundabout chat of boringness (I’m a writer, me) and I find myself relying more and more on exposition to get from one place to the other.
And I excel at grabbing your attention as we swap scenes
Of course, exposition is something I’m actually quite good at, as are slight references to inner monologues. I can cut away to other characters and have the scene resume later with the problem dialogue having happened off the page. I explain relevant decisions quite well when I use that trick and last used it to skip three or four hours of walking without the characters just suddenly being there. I never did like the whole “let’s go here”, “we’ve arrived now” thing unless there was something else happening elsewhere that could seemingly fill that time up. Exposition can’t be used all the time though, and I can’t keep cutting away from the scenes that I find difficult to write either. Somewhere along the line I have to get on with actual dialogue.
The value of proofing your copy
The thing is, when I’m writing dialogue it kind of bursts out of me like a stream and I find I’ve written a couple of thousand words in the time it takes for my coffee to cool down enough for my manly tongue to actually drink it without making me scream like a manly girl. The dialogue is unfortunately me talking to me though and not my characters talking to each other. However, I’ve found that I can use those more animated conversations as starting points. I can change them by using the covered subjects, the stance each character has and the style of talking to make each conversation work a little better and seem like my characters talking rather than me having a bit of a breakdown. Sometimes that goes well and a couple of lines extend to a coupke of pages of dialogue. Sometimes the exact opposite happens.
Part of me feels like this should be handled in the editing stage when the basics are down. Another part of me wants a basic first draft that is readable, has everyone well defined and just needs pruning, clarifying and spellchecking. If I can’t get the characters to speak in their own voice even a little by the time the first draft is ready, then I shouldn’t bother writing at all. That’s the stance I have on it. So, for every session of writing I’m doing, I’m doing one of editing. I sit down with my novel and pick at a problem scene, taking it apart and usually rewriting it from the ground up. It hurts me every time I delete a load of writing, hurts to know that I spent time on this and now it has been replaced. It also makes for a better novel where what I’m trying to say is less likely to be confused with other meanings.
Or body parts
Once the first edit is finished I’ll be putting the project on hold for a month or two so that I can return to it with fresh eyes. After that time I’ll reread it, checking the spelling, making sure I haven’t made any continuity goofs and seeing anything needs reclarifying or rewriting. After that the first readable version will be produced and a few readers close to me will be given it as a novel a friend has written and wants opinions on (to keep them honest). Once I’ve taken on board what they have to say I’ll probably have to rewrite some parts and add others that clarify common misconceptions. That will become the second edit, and then I should be close to done and either looking for a publisher or chickening out of that self-loathing filled path and self-publishing on Amazon.
And that is how I’m getting on so far.