Last week I was asked a question. Two questions actually. How do you go about writing a novel and can you do it any faster – you know, maybe skip a step or five?
The answer to the second question is, easy. No! Absolutely, no – not if it’s to be a decent novel. I had to point out to the asker that sadly, beautiful prose doesn’t just drip from my fingertips like honey. It takes time, dreaming, and lots and lots of work to make a novel shine. Even then, not everyone will think it fabulous – But that’s another post!
You often hear authors refer to their novels as their babies, and with good reason. Like babies, books take time to cook. Unlike babies, you have to do the work yourself. I like to think of my first draft as the bones – the story at its most unglamorous. Like a skeleton, it would never stand on its own. But the first draft guides, forms a basis for further work – It’s something to add to. The second draft is the muscle. Here is where my novel is filled out. Inconsistencies are dealt with, characters enhanced and necessary adjustments made. The novel is still not in any way pretty, but this draft makes the story work. The third draft is the fat – the extras. Consideration of voice, the senses, use of language – the things that give the story flavour. The fourth draft is the skin. This is a scene by scene check of my novel. At this stage I am considering purpose and sentence structure. This is the time where most of my darlings are killed. By the time I’ve finished this draft I consider the novel to be reasonably tight and intact. I still wouldn’t put my book out into the world. I mean, it might be complete but it’s naked! It still needs to be clothed! At this stage, I give the manuscript to my readers – those trusted few people I don’t mind showing my story in all its naked glory to!
My readers always come back to me with comments – issues, problems, bits they are not quite clear on. Which brings me to the fifth draft – the clothing. I take every single reader comment into account when it comes to this draft. If one of my readers has stopped to wonder at a certain point, then my readers in the world might also. So even if I don’t take up a particular suggestion, I will remedy the situation in some other way. I want my novel to be dressed immaculately. I don’t want a button undone, a tag hanging out or a collar turned up. Those things draw attention. The sixth draft is the perfume – a sentence by sentence study. Here I’m looking for repetition of words, unnecessary words and appropriate word use. This brings me to drafts seven, eight, and nine – jewellery, makeup, and sparkles, layer upon layer of adornment and beautification! A beautiful image here, a deepening of emotion there and just a general sprinkling of faery dust. Then it’s off to the publisher for edits ten, eleven, twelve etcetera!