Writing a book, for me, takes a while, is a multi-stage process. Planet Masters and Pursuit of Diana were exceptions. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes more, in some cases much more. I’ve been working on The Black Ring, based on an idea I had sixty five years ago. Not writing all the time…
Typically, given a workable idea, there are notes, sketches, maps, sometimes research, sometimes outlines (to which I do not have to adhere), or scene lists, or plot points, all before the first rough draft. The rough draft is to just get everything down on paper (or on screen). It’s kind of a jumble, and needs everything, like dialogue, and description, and clean text. It’s a kind of skeleton rather than an outline, needing flesh, innards, ligaments, nerves, integument, skin, clothes. When that’s all done, I have my first draft. Sometimes I get rough and first at the same time.
With that draft I have everything, and I said it all the (nearly) right way. I almost always did a second draft (it’s many more drafts than that now), just to make sure of consistency, that I’ve not left any thing out, or any loose ends. Then maybe a polish. Back in those days, my stories were a lot simpler, the plots were a lot more direct, the characters, while realistic, weren’t all that deep.
The last book I wrote that way was The Eye In the Stone.
There are varous reasons (not excuses) for a publishing career to suffer an extended interruption. I may write about those another time. But I didn’t stop being a writer, despite the demands made on my time, such as managing the family while we were in England, or being the full-time father when Darcy was born. I was always a writer, and I always will be.
But the effect has been, when I was able to devote myself full time to writing novels, not just to collecting ideas and sketches and drafts, that a lot of time had passed. And I was working differently, and had learned a lot (some of which had to be unlearned). My next book (not counting Cat Tales, Closet for a Dragon, and Freefoot), was Stroad’s Cross. It had been in development for years, not months. It was not a simple plot, it had several sub-plots. It wasn’t easily categorized, as mystery or horror or supernatural. There were complex characters with a lot more depth. And it was big.
Sturgis was a short novel, written over only about two years, but it too had a complex plot, a detailed setting and context, rather complex characters, and was either mystery or horror or supernatural.
Dead Hand, in development for a very long time, was much the same, a big book with 92 scenes, 52 viewpoint characters, and I haven’t counted how many sub-plots. It was complex and uncategorizable. That last being why I went to self-publication.
Slaves of war was a major reworking of an old space opera plot, quite simple by comparison.
Then There’s the Black Ring.
Stroad’s Cross, Dead Hand, and Black Ring have all gone through many drafts, some parts more than others. The point being, that I have read each of those texts many times. Lots of many times. Over and over again many times. And in each case I thought I was done.
I put them away for a while, so I could come back and read them again, objectively, as if reading for the first time, and could fix whatever showed up after the break. And I discovered that a paragraph, or a page, or several pages are garbage. And I have no idea how I missed that, considering all the times I have read that paragraph, or page, or pages. See my previous post.
I can fix those problems now, but how did they get past me, when I have been so careful, have re-read so often, have applied all my hard-earned editorial skills? Over and over again.
It isn’t just a matter of editorial objectivity. My three-stage polish uses techniques which I have developed to ensure my objectivity, even when reading my own text. Which is how I found these problems eventually. And even outside editors miss things, as I learned while correcting scans of Pursuit of Diana for my Books site.
Well, I can tell you this, if I knew how I had missed those problems for so long, I would have caught them when I made them, and I wouldn’t be writing this post.