Friday, May 02, 2008

Humming Along...News for the Week

I've had quite a productive week. My writing life has always been a mixture of almost complete indolence (occasionally known as "research") and crackling spells of productivity. I can't write a first draft in dribs and drabs--I can only get the job done with adrenalin and momentum.

The first draft of The Last Free City is coming along apace. Word count is just over 25,000 with a lowest daily output of 1,100. This is a horribly reductive way of looking at writing, but as a motivational tool it's highly effective for me. Once I hit 1,000 for the day, I'm in credit, and I can stop when I like. (I draw the line at keeping daily records: I just know that if I knock out 1,000 words a day I'll have a first draft to a timescale that allows me to remember the beginning when I'm writing the end).

That said, I do have quality issues with TLFC. I like numbers and formulae (goes with the day job) and I had a sense that something was out of balance with the first draft. Going back to The Dog of the North and Dragonchaser, the only similar things I've written, reinforced that view. For each book, I categorised every scene into Action/Drama, Political Intrigue, Reflection and Romance, these being the major components of each book. (You can already see how fundamentally stupid this idea is, but bear with me). The results were:

Dragonchaser
Action/Drama: 48% Intrigue: 18% Reflection: 15% Romance: 19%

The Dog of the North
Action/Drama: 48% Intrigue: 21% Reflection: 12% Romance: 19%

The proportions of scenes in each category is almost eerily similar. It takes no account of the length of scene, is highly subjective in its categorisations, and takes a broad view of what constitutes "action". But I have a sense that both of those books are well-balanced in terms of structure, so maybe it's telling me something. (If this means I'm writing to a formula, it's unconscious: as a writer I have a sense of whether things 'feel' right, which includes questions of balance like this).

The proportions are rather different for TLFC.
The Last Free City
Action/Drama: 17% Intrigue: 35% Reflection: 26% Romance: 22%

This supports my feeling that, a this stage, not enough is going on. The narrative is too light on action. Since the boundary between action and intrigue is a permeable one in my fiction, this need not be disastrous. And the way the novel is paced, the action will become more intensive as the story goes on. None of this is telling me to scrap the project - but it's a helpful reminder that the kind of fiction I write needs plenty of incident. It's no coincidence that the two scenes I'm working on at the moment are set-piece conflict and action scenes - because I know the story needs it at this stage.

Those concerns aside, there's much to be pleased with to date. The protagonist has a nice crop of flaws: he's indolent and caddish, redeemed by the occasional inexplicable flash of gallantry. For now, that's where I want him to be. The lead female character is suitably mercurial; I don't know what she's going to do next, so no-one else does. Best of all, the society of Taratanallos, the 'last free city' is ripening in a satisfying if somewhat unexpected way. It hadn't occurred to me, until I started writing, that this is not a place you would want to live. And the 'free' of the title is taking on a pleasingly ironic flavour...

* * *

After some consideration I have decided to submit Dragonchaser to Macmillan as my second novel. Looking over it at the weekend, I was surprised with how well it held up. It's still a story I believe in, and one that I think readers of The Dog of the North will enjoy. So now it's time to see if Macmillan agree with me! More on this later, of course.

3 comments:

David Isaak said...

Dragonchaser is in my (enormous) to-read pile. Perhaps this will vault it to the top. Well, after three other things I HAVE to read.

Tim Stretton said...

There is always too much to read...I am on Zelazny at the moment. Good stuff!

Matt Curran said...

Hi, Tim

Spookily, my third book is more of a slow-burner too, with more intrigue than the first two novels, and it does feel odd writing something that's a little different to the usual stuff I write.

But it’s working well so far…

(Good luck on Dragonchaser, by the way)

Matt