I recently finished a book. It was a feeling of great relief, since I had begun to wonder if I would ever finish it. I’m still a relatively new writer, and I was slowly convincing myself that the other books had been a fluke. I couldn’t do this, I wasn’t a real writer… It took me two years to finish this book, when it had taken me at most six months to complete one before. It’s probably understandable that it made me feel like a failure, looking back, but while I was in it I lacked the perspective.
It was a learning process. I learned that I could keep writing after life-changing interruptions. I learned that I could hold a story in my head for that long. As a pantser, I didn’t think that was possible. Sometimes in this process I would put my head on the keyboard and wonder why I was bothering with this hot mess. As a result, I wound up with not one, but three alpha readers. The First Reader, who had come up with the original story idea, was too close to it. The others helped me regain confidence in the story which let me finish it. I couldn’t have done this without their encouragement.
The story went off to beta readers a week ago, and reader reports have been trickling back in. To my relief, they are all positive, with small problems that can readily be repaired. The story isn’t broken.
It would have been easy for me to break the story. Erratic pacing, that left readers bored or confused in turns. Pacing problems would have required major manuscript surgery – not fun when you are dealing with more than 100k words. I had been worried that would be a problem so I had written it in chapters, not my usual procedure. This enabled me to look back and plot the arcs when I returned from an interruption and then have a better feeling for where I was.
Uneven development of character was another concern, as the story pivots around a young man who must grow into his role. Just like in real life, I wanted to show him try, slip up, and finally come to a place where his confidence was not self-concious. Characters are easy to make succeed. You’re the author, you have omnipotence in the book. Forcing it, though, leads to unbelievable characters who are too good to be true – or whiny useless characters in roles that leave you wondering how they got there, much less were kept in it.
Finally, and the place where I do have work ahead of me… Foreshadowing. Years ago, when I was a dewy-eyed writer, I sent my baby manuscript, my first book, off to my mentors. In return I got a coconut off the noggin. I knew it was delivered in love, so I just rubbed the knot on my head, made a coconut cream pie, and went back over the book. My foreshadowing did suck, and being told that by a man who is superb at it didn’t hurt (much). I’ve got a pretty thick skin. This book (which I wouldn’t bother the coconut-thrower with, his life is even busier than mine in the decade that has passed) took two years to grow from planned short story for an anthology that died, into a planned series. I literally had no idea, when I wrote the first scene, where it was going. Or I was.
Now, I have to go back and weave in hints of what is to come, but not big whopping clues. I have to decide if I will include part or the whole of Jade Star, which takes place in this same universe, and is a story told to my main character in the book I’ve just finished. I have to be sure there are loose ends to tie on the next book to the events of this one, but not so many the reader is left unsatisfied. Just writing the end doesn’t mean you’re finished!
But in the meantime, there are interruptions. Real life intrudes. I have begun working on the next books, or rather one insistent story and three novels. I can’t write all of them at once, I’m simply waiting for the dominant story to come to the forefront and writing on them in turn until then. To facilitate, I’m reading for research. This book can’t take me two years to finish. It just can’t, because I don’t think I could go through that again. I need to write.