From Draft to Finished Copy by Chris Lloyd
The idea for the next book is always swirling around inside my head while I’m writing the current one, so much so that I have to fight the temptation to make a start on it until I’ve finished the one I’m doing. I just have to be happy with making notes as stories or characters occur to me. I’ve got a rotten memory, so I’m an obsessive note-taker; you can’t imagine the number of brilliant plot twists I’ve thought of in the shower that have gone by lunchtime.
The first month or so of a new book I spend on getting the story straight in my head, getting an idea of the characters who are going to appear, trying to think of the key moments and picturing a sequence. I don’t always worry about the ending just yet, as that usually comes into focus after I’ve started writing. It’s also a good time to be really critical and try and find holes or inconsistencies in the idea and in the way the sequence is coming along. That way I don’t have to backtrack so much to unpick something after I’ve started writing. The next step after that is a short time putting the key scenes into some sort of an order. I usually end up giving up on trying to find the later ones as I know they’ll change in the writing, and I’m starting to get impatient to get on with writing it. What that means is that I know the first three or four major moments in the story and I have a rough idea of how things will develop after that; the rest will fall into place later.
Then it’s the scary bit: writing. The blank screen is pretty daunting, but getting the first few words down is just the best. I don’t know if other writers do this, but I normally start with the second chapter. I write a few notes and a couple of ideas for opening lines for the first chapter, but I like to leave it at that until I’ve finished the book so I know exactly what the opening has to do once I’ve got the whole story in place. As I’m writing, the later key scenes start to take shape and I sketch them out. These scenes are useful as they show me what needs to happen between one key moment and the next – I usually have a couple of pages of notes for each of these sections, which I add to as I write. I use Scrivener for the first draft, by the way. It takes a bit of setting up, but then it’s great for taking care of the structure and format, leaving me to get on with telling the story.
Once the first draft is down, including the first chapter, I export it to Word and start working on redrafting. That’s when I see all the bits of fluff or the most glaring inconsistencies and I can get rid of them. In an ideal world, I like to be able to leave a couple of weeks between drafts, but there’s this thing called a deadline… After this bit, I print the manuscript and go through it with a red pen and make notes all over the pages. I’ve learned to make proper notes that I’ll be able to understand a few weeks later – I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at a scrawl in the margin and wondered how much I’d had to drink that day. This is usually the stage when I have to delete long sections and add bits that I haven’t made clear. I nearly always have to trim the dialogue a fair bit. Another thing I’ve learned is that the quicker I write a scene at first draft stage, the more I have to cut in subsequent drafts – you can get on too much of a roll; and the longer a passage takes me to write, the more I have to add to it, as I’ve given myself the false impression that it’s going on too long.
That whole redrafting process is repeated until it looks like something I wouldn’t be too afraid to send to my publisher. I email it to both my editor and my agent, and then I sit back and stare feverishly at my inbox for a week or so. They both then send the manuscript back with notes and suggestions, which I stare at glumly for a while and then start working out how to go about doing the redraft. Oddly, I love this stage. So much of the first drafts was done in solitude that I find I enjoy this collaborative aspect. There are always doubts in my mind about scenes or strands, and their feedback normally ends up confirming what I’d thought, but they also find ways of improving the book that I’ve missed. It’s easy to get too caught up in it and I need someone else’s vision to help me sharpen the story. The final part of this stage is the copy-edit, which is also perversely enjoyable. The copy editor sees all the repetitions and clumsy phrases that have slipped through the net so that I can put them right – it’s very satisfying honing your words.
Now we get to the sexy bit. One of the best moments of all is seeing the cover design. There are lots of emails back and forth about what should be on the cover and some sample images, but even though I have an idea of what it’s going to look like, there’s still nothing like the thrill of seeing the finished piece. Something that’s strangely exciting is seeing the lettering – the three Elisenda books have a very strong cover font and it’s the coolest thing to think it’s how my books are identified.
And then, finally, the really scary bit: publication. It’s great fun getting lovely messages from readers, bloggers and other writers, but it’s still a daunting moment when your darling is released into the wild and you wait for the first comments to come back. It’s still worth every minute of everything that came before it, though. And, of course, there’s the bottle of red wine to celebrate it. That feels pretty good too.
Lastly, thank you Jess for hosting me on Jess Hearts Books today.
Thank you so much for being on the blog today Chris
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