I’m in the process of my first read-through and first editing pass of A Murder of Crows, which I don’t think I’ve talked about much here if at all, and which is a dark fantasy novel that I began at the beginning of October and finished at the end of that same month. My instincts were correct: I underwrote. A lot. My goal is to get this from 65k words to 80k or more, and as of right now I think that’s eminently doable, given that there are many scenes that need fleshing out and other scenes that need adding.
Here’s the thing about novels: every single one is a different writing experience. Line and Orbit was this massive, sprawling, slightly fragmented thing, at least partly because it was coming from two imaginations instead of one, both working in excellent sync but both with a novel’s worth of Novel Stuff to go into the project as a whole. The result was a book that was in excess of 145k words long – two entire book-amounts of novel. So the task there was whittling it down to a manageable, publishable size, and that task was a mammoth one. It took about two years.
That book was also only roughly planned beforehand. It grew organically as we wrote. That was another reason for the length.
The second thing I attempted, my first solo novel – the Last Days of Mars in the Hesperian Epoch thing, Communion – was also planned out only roughly beforehand, and while it wasn’t overlong, I think it did suffer for that. I think it’s a good book, but it has a slight tendency to wander in its focus – which actually sort of fits what it’s about, but takes a little bit of the punch away from the ending.
The third book I’ve written, Harbinger, was planned out more completely, but suffered from – I think – me just not being all that into it after a while. Characters weren’t deep enough, the world-building was sort of thin, and the narrative flow lacked focus. The existence of planning to the point where I knew I had to get from point A to point B, but not to the point where I had a sense of pacing and emotional intensity, hurt it a lot. I like large portions of that book, but I don’t feel like it’s publishable in its current state. It’s been shelved until I have the time/inclination to work on it. Which will probably consist of rewriting a significant amount of it.
And now A Murder of Crows. This is, as I’ve said, the first book I’ve plotted out scene by scene, and as a result it went blazingly fast; I completed the first draft in less than a month. As a narrative it’s mostly complete. It doesn’t wander; it’s very tight. The worldbuilding has depth. There’s a definite sense of three complete acts. It wraps up fairly neatly while leaving itself open to sequels.
Those are the pluses. The primary minus is that, as I also said, it’s underwritten. It’s also paced a little awkwardly. It moves from plot point to plot point in a very regular fashion; it goes places because it is simply time to go there. One of my betas has said that it feels a little like ticking boxes; this is because that was pretty much exactly what I was doing. That’s not an irreparable issue by any means, but it does mean that I’m in the interesting position of having to go back through and add a whole lot, rather than subtracting. Which isn’t really me, usually. Most of my short stories have to be edited down for length. I tend to bloat, often because I’m not always sure exactly how to say what I want to say.
So basically there’s no right way to do this, I think. Every approach has a lot of potential issues. The point is to have something there and at least sort of finished, because having to fix something is clearly better than having nothing there at all to fix.
Four of these and I’m still just beginning to learn about what’s involved.
Lisa and I still have two Line and Orbit sequels to plan and begin.
Back to work.