I’ve been thinking this week about how I set about writing fiction, and it struck me that I do most of it in my head long before I sit down and start typing. Once I’ve decided what I want to write about, I start thinking about plots and worlds and characters and scenes and themes… It’s only when I have enough of those clear in my head that I start to put the sentences together using a word processor…
And once I begin the actual physical process of writing, then I start the research. The two feed into each other. Things I find in my research prompt changes in the story; the way the story develops opens up areas I need to research. Even then, everything is mutable: that first draft is mostly a brain dump larded with research. After that comes the actual shaping of the text. And revision. Lots of revision.
A case in point is the next book of the Apollo Quartet. Even before I started Adrift on the Sea of Rains I knew what the second book, Wave Fronts, would be about. It would have two narratives – call them A and B. A would be set in the present of the story, but B would be set some 100 years later. The combination of the two would explain the resolution (with supporting arguments in a glossary).
But while fleshing out the synopsis a week or so ago, a detail I added to the background of narrative A’s protagonist struck me as something worth expanding. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it provided a better dramatic counterpoint to narrative A than narrative B did. So I decided I would now tell the story using narrative A and narrative C. Narrative B would be incorporated into the glossary.
I was happy with this. Then I saw Lavie Tidhar’s review of Adrift on the Sea of Rains here. And it gave me an idea, a way to add more drama to narrative C. I already had a thematic link between the two narratives, but this new idea not only reinforced that, it also strengthened other areas of the story. It made the choice of protagonist much more plausible – in fact, it made him the only choice of person as the protagonist.
So it’s a good job all this had happened in my head. If I’d had to rewrite a 20,000-word document, I don’t think I’d have been so quick to completely re-invent the story. But the end result is, I believe, a now much stronger novella. With glossary.
Unfortunately, the original title no longer fits quite so well…
May 4, 2012 at 10:41 pm
I’d be interested to know what sort of timeframes you’re normally looking at for the different parts of your writing process.
Speaking of ‘wave fronts’, it sounds like creativity works in layers or waves, as it does for me.
On a given day I may have a few ideas, which don’t add up to much. Fortunately, over time there’s a layering of ideas and revisions, little pieces of thought and inspiration that (thankfully) finish up much greater than the sum of their parts.