Monday 15 April 2013

Where I'm being a wordcount neurotic (Scorpion II)

Okay, I'm now involving you in a spot of wordcount neuroticism. (You're welcome.)

My deadline for Scorpion II (Lying with Scorpions) was set at end-May (2013). Five months ago when we decided on the date, that looked easy. I can write a novel in six months. So I wrote my historical novel, while thinking hard about the beginning of Scorpion II.

You see, more than a year ago, I wrote 17k of Scorpion II in short order and send it to a couple friends whether it worked for them. That proved to be a mistake, because to the Muse, just one person saying "it's boring and crap" can kill a book mid-chapter. I lose confidence and the Muse deflates like a burning zeppelin. (This isn't blame-shifting - my mistake is to hand anything out without telling people "Tell me only the good news. Don't tell me if it sucks." I'm much better taking "This sucks, that chapter is bad, that character is a whining asshole, I really don't care about anybody" when I have a completed first draft and switch over into editing mode. At that point, criticism, even harsh one, is helpful. Mid-stride, I lose balance and falter. Timing, as so often, is everything.)

So, Scorpion II stopped right after what I'd call the set-up. The principal characters are in place. The main conflict is established. Let's launch the middle (the part where the pieces actually move and do things and the conflict gets more and more pressing). Only--I didn't. I did re-read what I'd written, and yep, nothing much happened in the first few chapters, so I made some mental notes to revise.

Last weekend, I suddenly realised that I don't have six months anymore, but six weeks. Cue freak-out. Sales are better when the next book is available. Last, but nowhere near least, I'd promised people they'll get the series. I really want to wrap up the whole thing this year, and we're one third through 2013 already, with very little to show for it.

So I spent the weekend re-jigging the 17k I have, decluttered the first chapter and restructured the ten or so chapters I had into four (long ones). It does change the flow of a novel if the chapters are longer. I made the conflict clearer (somebody's trying to assassinate Adrastes - rather than Adrastes and Kendras just having a relaxed little chat about the likelihood that Adrastes will get assassinated. Which ended up making all the difference.) I established a bunch of characters--two new Scorpions in Runner and Blood, a number of potential antagonists in Nhala, Graukar and the generals of Dalman. All of them have their own reasons for doing what they do, which is easy to keep in mind. To me, they are all alive, especially, weirdly, the women.

Then I added a good 2.5k to what I'd written (not bad, since I cut at least 1k, too). I'm now at the point where I consolidate the set-up and Kendras initiates a new Scorpion and will soon meet Graukar for the first time. So, I've entered the muddly middle, where characters push their agendas and Kendras tries to deal with the hand he's holding and starts to learn politics (not a pretty sight). There are many themes that are emerging: tradition versus innovation, the "burden of command" (Kendras is a weaker leader than Adrastes, so the Scorpions are feeling somewhat more "democratic" than they were in the first book, with people challenging Kendras's assessment repeatedly). It's also about "empire versus leadership" or generally a study in power. Some of these themes might become more prominent, others might bleed into the background. A novel is an iceberg--lots of stuff's present, but you can't see everything. For me, though, it has to be there, lagely to entertain myself.

More importantly, I now have 47 days to write 40-50k outstanding words (the first book had 72k, I don't expect this book to be any shorter), which means a solid 1,000 words a day. That would be easy, but I'm expecting to get hit with a pile of edits this month (our WWII historical is coming back, and there's Capture and Surrender, and, of course, the first editing pass of the contemporary cop story we've written), so I'll try to write at NaNoWriMo speed, which is to say 1,600-1,700 words/day. Count the fact that I'm also attending the London Book Fair and my birthday is in there somewhere, it's doable if I apply ass to chair. How much I'll manage to write of other books I have no clue. The "birds book" is an obvious victim, it pains me to report. I had a good flow going on that, but the research takes a huge amount of time, which I don't have when I'm on a tigh-ish deadline.

Though the really shocking thing is that Scorpion II looks to be the second in a trilogy. I never expected a third book, and I have no idea yet what's happening there (apart from one scene, which at the moment means nothing and hints at very little). Writing that in two months is the thing I'm really scared of, though I'm hoping that writing the second book will give me a clue what it all means and make the third one easier.

So, I'll involve you guys and will keep you in the loop how this project is going in sheer numbers of words. I doubt I'll have anything else much to blog about while I try to keep on top of this. I'll likely install a wordcount bar, and I'm definitely keeping the "order of battle" spreadsheet updated.

Let the games begin.  

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