Triple-Edged Sword, Day Four

Well, today was day four of the writing schedule. I did attempt to write up days two and three, but in all honesty, a succinct way of putting it would be 'see day one', as it was primarily the same goal – to put down some sort of structure for the plot I had in mind. At the moment, that outline consists of twenty-nine chapters, but that doesn't actually mean anything. Already, I've merged two chapters with each other to strengthen the plot of the remainder, and often chapters end up being split in half if I think they are running too long.

Today was the first day that I actually seriously put finger to keyboard, and I managed a hair under six thousand words, two chapters. Not a bad start. Those first chapters are always a very difficult balancing act, in that you need to introduce the plot, the characters and the setting while keeping it interesting to the reader – not an easy path to walk. Many times I've ended up simply deleting the first chapter, and the book has been no worse for the lack. The trick is to launch into the action as rapidly as possible, and worry about seeding the bulk of the plot later on.

The other difficulty stems from the knowledge of the reader. When writing a long series, you don't know how people are going to read it. I've had emails telling me that people started in a book other than the first, usually the latest book, so it is important to have enough information that someone who has never read a book in the series can pick up relatively quickly. This is why I trend against direct sequels, as it makes providing such knowledge all but impossible. More likely, the books will be read some weeks or months apart, in which case it is important to provide a few quick reminders about the major characters. That's a lot easier – simply saying 'Spaceman Spinelli at the sensor station', or 'Ensign Cooper, commander of Alamo's Espatier force' is enough. That can make the early chapters a little clunky, but it gets it out of the way. (The third type of reader in this context reads them all at once, one after another – in which case they will know the details of the characters already when picking up the book, and it is important to avoid over-repetition.)

Frankly, I'm always happy once I've got the first three or four chapters behind me, and I can get onto the main business of setting up the problems. Essentially – the first third of the book introduces the problem, the second third escalates the problem, and the final third solves the problem, potentially leaving some loose ends for future books. That's as good a way as any of looking at it.

Something that I have always stressed for those seeking to write quickly is that improving your typing speed is an excellent idea. I'm not going to pretend that I can write books as quickly as I can type – I wish I could do that, I'd be writing a novel in a couple of days – but as the words come to you, it is important to get them onto the screen as fast as you can. There are times I have written four, five hundred words in ten minutes, if I've had a burst of inspiration, and typing speed is important. What is just as important is getting a good keyboard. I picked up a new one a few days ago, one that feels a lot more solid than the one I was using before, and it has improved my speed by thirty percent. Getting a good keyboard is critical; it's your primary tool!

As well as writing two chapters today, I've outlined the next three in more detail, enough that I've done a lot of the heavy thinking already. My plotting produces only a rough outline, and it is important to flesh it out into something a little bulkier, but I find it works best if I do it the night before. That means I have plenty of time to ponder it overnight, then can come to it fresh in the morning. While I'd probably do two chapters on a normal day, I like to have an extra one ready, in case I am able to push on further, which does happen on occasion. And, of course, it is usually less plotting work for the next day! Tomorrow I will also have another treat – the chapters I wrote today, for their first edit...

I do intend to write a post tomorrow; I probably won't write every day, though, especially if it is a choice between a blog post and the novel! Certainly I'll manage a few more this time,, see you tomorrow...

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