Saturday, January 24, 2015

What I Learned Writing The Iron Casque

This is what I learned about writing while writing The Iron Casque:

- I tried to put way too much stuff in. It was really, really hard** to physically and mentally fit all the essential plot points in 5000 words. The plot kept pushing every other story element (setting, character, atmosphere) off the page.

** When I say "hard" I mean "impossible". I've learned I have a very poor grasp of how little of a plot fits strongly in 5000 words. (On the plus side, I have a lot of plot to work with when looking for strong elements to actually make it into the story. I just have to be more Darwinian about it).

Note: The first draft was around 7500 words. That's a lot of extra material to cut out. There isn't that many extra words just in the word-padding in my sentences. To get this story down to my limit (4500 to 5000 words) I had to slice out a whole chunk of plot and leave it squirming on the cutting room floor.
That was shocking to do, but it was 2 am and I had to be up for work the next day at 5:30.
So I did, and I concertina'd the plot in a new slimline version, and it made the story stronger.

- I took a little too much description out. Paring down the description to fit the word count at 3 am Sunday night sliced off some things that would have made the story richer. In some places the prose was a little too sparse. This is sword and sorcery.

That's what happens when you have no time at the end of your deadline.

- I need to track how long I spend writing
  - WRITEROOM does this automatically?

- I spent WAY too long on this story. I spend around 40 hours just writing a story of 5000 words. That doesn't include cover, background, notes, & outline.
That's insane and impossible. I have a wife, 3 kids, a dog, a yard and a full time job that deserve my time as well.

- I wrote so SLOWLY. This was due to:

    - going back and polishing what I'd written as I was writing (this was a good thing. It saved time later. Just needs to be quicker).

    - stylistic rewrites of what i'd written in previous sessions each time I sat down (this was a bad thing).

    - lack of focus: writing a scene or the start of a scene then taking it out before the end of the session because it was a distraction to the actual story (a stronger sense of what is and is not the story should see this naturally fall away. for now, spending extra time on strong focus and preplanning of each chapter / short story should make this better).

    - inexperience with structure: writing a scene or scenes then later realizing that direction was a blind alley/would not take the story where I planned it to go

    - overwriting: too many words to say what I needed to be said (being mindful of this while writing should correct this if repeated often enough. I hope.)

    - PASSIVE VOICE: this was the thing I wrestled with most but was the most useful.The only way to fix this is to keep going back for every sentence and fixing it, again and again. But it meant I couldn't get any flow happening. I had to continually redraft the sentence or paragraph I'd just written from passive to active.

In conclusion:
I finished the story. It came in under 5000 words, and I was happy with it at the end. I was 3 and half hours over time (submitted to Amazon 3:30 am AEST) but I'm OK with that. I did what I set out to do and that made me feel proud.

And I had no idea about some of the stuff on this page. I've learned a lot.

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