Thoughts on Novel 5: First Draft Complete

Just today I put the finishing touches on the first draft of my 5th novel. Of course “finishing” and “first draft” don’t really go together very well. They are opposites in every way, but even though the draft is far from finished, there is something to be celebrated about the completion of any novel. I remember in 2003 when I attempted my first and got 500 words in and completely bailed in utter failure. At that point I didn’t think I would ever attempt a novel again.

Now, fifteen years later, I completed my fifth in five years. That’s significant progress, and it didn’t come lightly.

So a celebration it is! #5 is finished! (There’s that word again.)

What can I say about the novel? I’m a little conflicted about it. It’s a story that’s been on my mind for the last few years. It’s a story clearly influenced by my twenty years living in Southeast Asia. It’s set in the fictitious island nation of Sulu in the Sulu Sea, between Borneo and the Philippines. The basic theme is can a fallen and broken man find his way back.

It’s about the Matthews, Tobin and Jane, a husband and wife who run a small mission in Sulu, helping the remote tribes with agriculture and improved living conditions. Tobin’s life and faith starts unraveling in front of him after a tragic confrontation with local authorities puts him on trial for his actions. His mission headquarters in the US sends a husband and wife team to Sulu to help the Matthews through their trials. But unbeknownst to the head of the organization, the woman being sent to help has past scars and secrets which will lead Tobin down a dark path of temptation.

The story itself is a real mix of adventure, inspiring moments, some courtroom drama, tense romantic entanglement, and even some unexpected humor.

I have no idea how it will be received, but I’m excited to work through it again and tighten everything together to see what I have.

Oh, the title: WHICH HALF DAVID

Release Date: 2016 (month TBD)

Book Cover: Working on it.

Now I’m excited to also start on novel #6. I have a very interesting idea which will stretch me beyond anything I’ve previously written. It will be different. I hope I can pull it off.

Here’s to creativity!

Draft Done: Now Can I Hold It Together?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the first, full-length play I’ve written without collaboration in about 4-5 years. The title of the play is “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.” It’s an allegorical tale of good and evil – somewhat inspired by Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Well, for the sake of clarity, I was watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema when the idea for a play came upon me. The story is not in anyway related to “Into the Woods,” but stylistically and setting, the story would feel somewhat at home in the Sondheim landscape – minus the music – mine is a stage play. (Though I think it would be fun to turn it into a musical.)

Anyways, the first draft is finished. My overall feeling toward this play is at the moment somewhat underwhelming. It has potential, but has not remotely reached it yet. Honestly, the ending is rushed and uneven at this point. I pushed myself hard yesterday just to get a completed draft, knowing that it would have large gaping holes in it. But for me, getting the story completely fleshed out is important. It gives me the overall structure which will enable me to work on the nuts and bolts.

Here’s how I plan to attack it:

First, do a complete read-through from A-Z and fix glaring mistakes in plot and character.

Second, once that is complete, I going to do a second read-through, looking specifically at language, vocabulary, and word-flow.

Third, I will read-through again, re-evaluating plot and character issues, and doing any major re-writes which need to happen. I also will make sure all scenes are necessary and that the pace of the play meets the demands of the purpose of the play. Dullness not allowed.

Once I reach this point, I will start to polish, further smoothing the dialogue until it really flows. I’ll read it out loud to make sure it sounds good, and that I can imagine the movement on the stage. Will it be interesting and engaging?

Finally, I’ll get some feedback from people I trust to give me unbiased advice about the manuscript.

Then, final edit, formatting, and (if I’m happy with it) publication.

I want this all complete by December so I can order copies for auditions and production starting in January 2016.

Almost there!

Writing: The Difference between being Finished and being Done

I don’t know how other people write. That makes sense. I’m not other people.

But I do wonder sometimes the various methodologies (or lack thereof in my case) applied to craft. I was particularly thinking about first drafts recently, and I realize that I am a “run and gun” offense on my first draft. I don’t slow down for anything, not even vocabulary or grammar.

What exactly does that mean? My first draft is focused on plot, and characters – but, if I had to pick one of those, it would be plot. I’m trying to find the common thread that’s going to weave this story together from start to finish, and since I’m trying to discover what it is, I rarely have patience to write it the right way the first time through. Just get it finished!

So a typical writing session will be me whipping through several chapters or mowing down several scenes just to better flesh out the story.

But the editing process begins at the very next writing session. When I start re-reading my machine-gun literature, it becomes painfully obvious that it’s mediocre writing at best. It needs a lot of work and refinement. As I re-read, I begin to parse out the phrases better, I begin to substitute more interesting vocabulary, and I begin to give characters the flair they should have but don’t yet have.

Once I reach the end of my last session, I’ll machine-gun it some more, extending the story out as far as I can at the moment.

Once the first draft is complete, the refinement begins. It’s a matter of looking at each and every sentence. Is the vocabulary solid and interesting? Do the sentences flow together well? Do the details of the characters match what has been said about them previously? Are there huge plot holes which need to be filled with a whole new writing session worth of material?

Once the second draft is done, I start the third draft, fixing the myriad of items which I missed on the second draft. The language begins to get crisper and the content flows smoothly.

By that point, it is “finished” but ┬ánot “done.” I see these as two distinct different things. Finished to me means that the story I want to tell is complete. “Done” isn’t accomplished until it’s actually sent for publishing which could be several months to a year after it is “finished.” ┬áThe “doneness” of a project is accomplished over a long period of time, working on nagging issues, improvement in vocabulary, fixing typos, and concentrating on making the “done” manuscript the absolute best that it can be.

That’s how I look at my writing process.

What about you?