Milestones – First Draft Complete

A month or two ago it was my birthday and, partly to celebrate as much as get feedback, I shared an excerpt from the book I’m writing. The excerpt is still available from the menu on this page (Wildwood Sample Chapter) for those interested in reading. This was obviously an early version of the first chapter and I wanted to see if anyone could spot any problems that I was blind to simply by being too close to the book. I got a lot of advice and put some of that to work throughout the entire book, getting rid of extraneous characters who served no purpose but to make the world seem more populated, making the cuts last longer so that we could get to know characters better, and adding more detail to events so that the humour in the book became an addition to rather than the point of certain rogue sentences.

All this time I was still writing the book, implementing new ideas and making the individual history of the characters and world more apparent. And now, I’ve finished. The book is story complete. First draft done. Well, I say the first draft is done but that isn’t completely true. Rather than writing the story and then editing it in runs later on, I’ve been doing a lot of editing as I went along. The version of the book that I’ve just counted as story complete is more like the twelfth draft than the first due to this, with every section having had at least two or three major editing passes. All that remains is to spellcheck the book and make a final editing run and I’m ready to publish.

The story, for those wondering, is an ensemble piece that wants to take you on a tour of the magical places within the dark and foreboding titular “Wildwood” while showing you just how this all fits together with what is happening to the main character.

Now comes the hard part. I have to put the book away for a couple of months. During that time I’ll be giving Kim a notebook and a copy so that she can help me with finding any tense and spelling problems as well as any nightmare sentences that run on and on and never seem to end even though the punctuation keys are right there within reach and all it would take is a single tap to enter a full stop like this one here. She’ll read through first to see if the story makes sense (if it doesn’t I need to do some rewrites) and then with a view to editing. All this time I won’t be looking at the book at all so that, when I finally pick it up again, it is all fresh enough for me that I can look at it with new eyes.

What I shall be doing instead is working on some of the extra short stories I want that give a deeper idea of how this world works. These stories should be complete side projects that can be skipped by anyone who reads the books, and yet add new layers to the story when read alongside them. Characters in the books will sometimes have a little of their history revealed in these stories while the creatures and events in the stories should pretty much all tie in with the main storyline without being essential reading. I’ll also be experimenting with new genres in these storylines, with ideas ranging from murder mysteries all the way to traditional holiday stories. I immediately started new project files for each of the short stories that will round out this phase of my series. Each one then had the synopsis split into sections that need to be written and all of the notes were then included in the relevant sections. All of these bits on information were on Evernote anyway up to that point, but I feel that arranging them ready to be written will allow me to start them properly.

The next order of business was celebration. I’ve always foreseen myself finishing a novel and relaxing with a good cigar and glass of whiskey. As I quit smoking almost two years ago the cigar is out of the question, but I have recently started drinking again so there was whiskey on hand. Before pouring the drink though, I needed a meal to celebrate with. I set out into the  sub-zero temperatures that cover this dark and inhospitable city, and went all the way to KFC before ordering what can only be described as a hammock of chicken. As most of it was spicy chicken with hot sauce my glass of whiskey had to wait while I sipped a beer and wondered what other orifices would suffer from that spicy coating later in the night. The whiskey is, at the time of writing, sitting in front of me and calling my name. “Come” it says, “You’ve earned me.” I can’t help but to agree with it.

Okay, maybe not that particular dark and inhospitable city. But it was cold, nonetheless.

I feel like a new man for having achieved this. So many times I’ve set plans to do something like this and yet I’ve allowed other things to get in the way almost every time. Oh, for those wondering, I started this book on the 16th of June and finished it on the 16th of January, oddly enough. This first draft of my book comes in at a very respectable 91,534 words. Not bad for seven months of writing occasionally.

This right here is how I feel right now.

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19 thoughts on “Milestones – First Draft Complete

  1. You feel like the only escape is into dark, watery depths? 😀
    Congratulations on finishing the book :up::hat:
    … and also for bugging my mind because I’ve seen all those pictures before and I can’t remember any of them :irked:
    Next step…Kindle version? A few hard copies via print-on-demand?

    • 500px is where I got the images. They were supposed to be linked so I’ll get to that in a moment.

      The next step is to finish this phase of the project off with a few short stories. Then I do the same with the next two phases. Once everything is ready I’ll think about publishing and go for a staggered release with holiday stories appearing around those holidays and the main books having a good six months to a year between them.

  2. Well done. I say that even though I have only read e tiny bit of your draft, because I salute to the effort, not the result. Been there myself a couple of times, and will be there again in a not so distant future, so… I feel you, mate… One advice: don’t keep it too long on the shelf. It might stay there. In a week or two the spirits of the underworld would have whispered so long in your ears at night that you will know as an absolute fact that what you just wrote is the utmost rubbish. Of course this is not true, but you will enter that phase. Almost every writer goes there. The thing is to go out of there again. That is quite an accomplishment. While writing this story you have grown. Your skills have improved. Even your self-image has changed. You are not the same man as when you first put the pen to the paper. So, of course what you just wrote seems a lot of nonsense now. Just bare this in mind, and don’t take too much time. Other people are handy. Let them read it. Most of them will give you their honest opinion. That is if you tie them to a kitchen chair and force them to look at childhood pictures of Justin Bieber. It works. Anyway: take a couple of weeks off.

    • The thing about me, the thing that sets me apart from all good writers and ties me in with all the average and banal shite that is called literature these days, is that I have an ego you could run a fridge off of. If I’m actually any good then all the better, but the one thing I won’t be doing is thinking that it is trash.

      Actually, that’s not what I mean. I see the value in the things I have done, even when I am no longer proud of having done those things. This is as true for the things I achieve as it is the things I’ve done in my life. I may have become better at the art of writing, and my progress on the short story I’m writing now is much closer to the final version I want than anything in the book was at this early stage to prove that, but I still see what I’ve written and am proud of the achievement. Come the end of the project I may rewrite some parts of that first book with what I have learned foremost in my mind as well as ideas of how to more tightly chain the series together, but it will not be a total rewrite at all.

      From time to time I look back across the things I’ve written on my old page as I’m moving them over to here and I am tempted to change them so that they look better and reflect my current talents better, but I never do. This is a tale of my writing skills and seeing how far I’ve come is as important as what is to come next. I may only be moving some posts over here but the reason for that is that so many are webtests, comics I’ve shared and things that are specific to the old site (theme changes for example). All of my actual writing is ending up over here bit by bit because it is all something that I’ve achieved. Of all the people I’ve met, I’d say I have the healthiest self image when it comes to things like that.

    • I get you. It’s just that there are quite many trapdoors on the way. One is the mindgames your own mind will play on you: Kepping you in a vortex of constant re-writing is one. At least two of my many unfinished novels are unfinished because of this. Another thing is bad luck. I had to move, very suddenly and unexpected, by some time in the nineties. At the time I was working in the media business, and a good part of the novel I was writing at that time was on the computer I used at the office. However, I asked for a short vacation, moved my home and settled down.in the new place, and on the way forgot everything about that piece of ficition, and when all the hardrives at the office had to be reformatted, I told them just to go ahead, there was nothing of any value on my harddrive (back then I only used it for current stories, news magazine stuff, of which there will eventually be 6 copies on other computers in the workplace before publishing). It took some months before I realized that that copy on the office pc was the only one I had, and this part was too substancial and too long to reconstruct, and I had to start all over. Bad luck sucks. That and the old pc’s with only 565 MB of memory.

    • At the moment I’m using Evernote as my primary writing platform, so I rarely lose more than a few lines at a time if anything goes wrong when writing. When I move those files to the PC for compiling, each scene gets its own file in the software I use and these can be moved around however I wish. When I make any major changes to a chapter, I make a copy of the chapter and work from that so that reverting is easy,

      I backup my main file (an export containing everything in the chapter files) to a second copy in my Dropbox folder whenever I make any changes. This is automatically uploaded to my account so that should anything happen to the computer, I’m safe. On top of that, once a month I upload a second copy to Google Drive, just in case. I’m just paranoid enough to have most bases covered that way.

      As for mindgames, I guess I get that. I spent more time rewriting parts of the book than anything else when writing it. In the end it was a stronger story for it, but I won’t allow that to happen with the next books. I do suspect that I’ll do a major rewrite when the rest are finished, but that will mostly be about recompiling the existing content than writing new things to replace it. As I find my style with the shorter stories and other books there is a good chance that the original won’t quite fit, and that is the only reason I’d do a major recompiling like that.

    • Like my brother said once: Safety is a good thing, paranoia is even better. I have two portable hard drives that I put everything on to. I do most of my writing off-line. It’s a deliberate thing. If I decide not to be online while writing, I have eliminated yet another distraction. Unlike you my problems are in the writing phase, not in the pre- or post-writing phases. Writing an entire and complete draft in six months is something I could never do. That’s actually well done considered the average. Researching and ‘postproduction’ however, is a minor problem to me. It’s the fun part, if you ask me; When the work comes out of the study.

    • Research was pretty easy for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. Fantasy is by its very nature researched as you write it. There were a few things I had to look into though, such as whether different teas come from different plants or different processes, and which part of the poppy produces things that can be turned into opiates. I’d always thought it was the seeds, but it turns out it’s the sap in the seed pods. Knowing how things like that work in the real world allowed me to work them more realistically into the fantasy I was creating. Keeping that fantasy feeling realistic has been quite the challenge, and it’s one I don’t think I’d be able to do with a real world setting, oddly.

    • It’s the beauty with the Fantasy genre: that you can make your own world from scratch. It’s up to you, and you alone, how many similarities to our world you want. I wrote some fantasy back in the late eighties/early nineties, but it was a sort of phase. I’m not much of a Fantasy-reader myself, grew up on the stuff and got fed up I suppose. Still love science fiction, though, and I guess I have to write a sci-fi novel once, before I’m outta here. Did some sci-fi shorts, but never on a greater scale, like creating an entire universe sorta thing. However, as I grow older, I am getting to prefer stories that take place in the real world (or rather that parallel diomension where ficition takes place). Dunno why, it’s just how it is. Also, I find more challenge in writing something that takes place in the here-and-now. Of course, I do realize, that when I have finished writing the thing, the World might have changed in a way that makes what I just wrote seem like a medieval chronicle. That’s how fast it goes, really.

      • I think I have a science fiction novel in me too, though owing more to the science fantasy genre if I know my mind. Not so much as Star Wars, of course, but enough that it couldn’t be mistaken for things like Star Trek or other wannabe science fact predictors.

        I have a few ideas that won’t fit fantasy and are perhaps a bit bigger than a short story. We’ll see when this project is done with.

    • As I wasn’t sure if I’d still have a palate for spirits I bought a half bottle of the basic Jamesons. Now I know I still love it, I’d like to get myself this for when I finish the entire writing project (all books and short stories).

  3. Jamesons has always been my spirit of choice – a pint of Guinness and a double Jamesons (no ice). Yes please.

    I like your writing, Mik, although generally the genre you’re in a t m isn’t what I choose to read, I don’t enter book-dwelling fantasy worlds easily – this however allows me to view the described world dispassionately and judge the writing on style alone, without really taking into account the subject. You’re certainly better than Dan Brown, a man with good ideas but bloody useless writing skills. The use…the proper, economic and grammatically correct use…of (the right) words is a skill to be admired and definitely used if you have it, which i m o you do. You must be technically excellent to make the story work at a believable level and I think you’re achieving this – or will do certainly through attentive and knowledgeable editing. Good luck dude, and I’d like to read more 🙂

    • Fantasy is an easy genre to half-ass things. When you get into questions such as “How does magic work?”, “Where did these weird and fantastical creatures come from?”, “So, there are gods that walk amongst us here, huh?” and the like, then a lot of writers fall down. For some readers it becomes hard to suspend disbelief beyond some sort of logic (even a logical path that doesn’t use what we would call logic in this world) and they need something to hold on to. Fantasy and, to a lesser degree, sci-fi tends to lose those readers where another genre might hold on to them due to being grounded in a more familiar world.

      While the project I’m working on doesn’t follow real world logic, there is a lot of logic that has gone into building the world. Creatures have their origins in the history of this world and are built to adapt to their habitat as well, allowing for variants on a theme that are wildly different from each other. Each of these has ties to a specific event in the history of the world, though how deeply they are connected depends on the creature type. The gods have their place in the world too, and the mechanics of how they inflict their presence on the world will be mentioned in one book and looked at over a couple of the shorter stories I’m writing.

      When the books are complete then a tale will be told that spans three books and looks at the event that spawned so many fantastic creatures, as well as the other repercussions of that event. Each book will also tell its own standalone story too, though they should be read together for a full understanding of what it happening in the world. On top of that, the shorter stories tell the other tales in this world that have no place in the main series. These will add to the main storyline if read, but are by no means essential. I’ve got most of these planned out already and am finding that writing them is an altogether quicker and more straightforward task.

  4. It’s not so much the requirement to suspend belief, but more the lack of quality in the imagination on offer which rules out a lot of (well, most) fantasy books for me – they’re just not rich or interesting enough. Excellent is readable, everything else is depressingly crass basically. Some worlds I’m instantly drawn into (I might have mentioned Gormenghast previously – that works perfectly for me), and others, whilst I might get into the first 20 or 30 pages, leave me cold and I resent the time wasted on dealing with a lesser imagination (and to be frank, intellect) than my own.

    The skill is in having the good ideas and writing them well enough so that the reading becomes effortless, and the events unroll in the mind’s eye, accompanied by instant understanding and belief in not only what’s stated, but also what’s implied. Like a good conversation. Carry on the good work, to coin a cliche…

    • The strength of my writing, at least as far as I’m concerned, is my ability to understand the Moffat Doctor Who plots to the point that I can guess their logical conclusions when most other people are still wondering what the hell X has to do with Y. I wrote a story that is by no means told in the right order, you see, and that sort of vision allowed me to see the linear progression of events while writing it out of order.

      The shred that I fed you guys last year is from the very first chapter (now heavily edited) and takes place at the start of the book from most points of view, but about a third in from the gentlemans point of view. The main story has a lot of that but there are only a few places where this sort of thing takes place in each book without the reader being immediately aware of it.

      Oddly time travel isn’t a major point of the book at all, merely something that some of the characters take for granted as a means to an end. They use it like we use timers and alarms on our phones.

  5. Like Flarin said, the Fantasy genre isn’t necessarily my bag. I see some in a book shop or in the library with interesting looking covers and check out the description, only to find something like, “Twamble knows the Secret of the Blue Rune, but can’t use it to save Glemnatridyne until his twin brother, Druluth, has finished his journey across the Plains of Most Remorse. Strange eyes follow his trek, eyes that could spell doom for Glemnatridyne!” At that point I usually think, “Who the fuck cares?” and put it back.

    But … I’m very interested to see where this one goes! It’s obviously well thought out, the characters aren’t just copies of one another with no personality or motivation, and there’s some really cool sounding ideas in there!

    The level of satisfaction you’re feeling about it is well deserved and must be immense! 91,534 words is a hell of an achievement! The most I’ve managed is 7,886 – and that was hard!

    Well done! 🙂

    • Had to take an involuntary break from writing due to illness recently. The ideas were all there but there was no way to articulate them, and I need music on while I’m writing if I want it to be any good when I fall into the rhythm. Still, even with the break I’ve finished the first draft of one short story (a little over ten thousand words) for this phase and am halfway through another, with the skeleton of a third pretty well fleshed (marrowed?) out. The short stories are coming along faster than the book did, word for word. I find myself rewriting much less of them and even writing in order (something I didn’t do for the book). Perhaps that’s because I have a clearer idea of where the stories are going. The blend of humour to truly dark happenings is a lot more natural too, and gives me a template to work from when I return to the book for revisions.

      There are a group of people who appear in the book and don’t really have room to have their characters explored beyond how they’re shown. In most cases they aren’t even named. I hit on the idea of making the short stories I’m telling focus on members of that group before they were brought together, or at least having a turning point that involves one of those characters. As most of my story takes place in the woods, these give me a chance to go elsewhere in the area and examine how this place works as a machine.

      Story for those still reading. I found out that, due to naming the area of the land as I had done, the dialect spoken there was called Peenish. I realised this as I wrote someone complaining about not being able to get their lips around it, and how wrong Peenish felt in his mouth. Now that I’ve seen that I’ve become convinced that I’m a comedy genius.

    • I know what you mean with the names thing. Kim hates that about fantasy too. I get that fantasy authors want to make their lands seem mysterious and magical, but there are only so many names that make no sense that readers can hold in their minds.

      In my book, most people on the sidelines are identified by their surnames in the village, as the main characters think of them that way. I’m mostly telling this from the point of view of a teenager so I feel that Nelson the Blacksmith would be more accurate than Clive Nelson the Blacksmith, in the way they’re thought of. Children are given first names as I feel you don’t think of kids by surnames only, unless you’re a teacher. Characters have their first names used in conversations with each other, but I usually stick to the surnames thing in exposition. When it comes to first names, I have a Rose, a Molly, a Martha, a Hans, and a Jake at the moment, amongst others. Names are open to change, but I feel they mostly suit those characters as well as show their place in the story (with the possible exception of Jake which has always been a placeholder).

      As for places, there are more than a couple of moments where one of the main characters blows her top about the naming of things in fantasy lands, specifically aiming at a simplistic naming that grates on her nerves but going into the way odd names are used elsewhere in fantasy too in one of her extended rants. I’ve set a rule that, in this area of the world, a Dun is a city and a Dunnet is a town so all town names will start with Dunnet and all city names will incorporate Dun into their titles. This is something that won’t be mentioned anywhere in the books (the main books shouldn’t visit any town or city beyond Dunwall), but those who read the other stories will gain a feeling of a connected area from that naming convention. Apart from that, and a specific way one creature type names itself (which again should only be apparent to those who read the extra stories) there are no special namings or attempts to make the world more mystical and full of magic. I want the down to earth feel of Norse mythology, not another Tolkienesque rant.

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