Finally reaching the end of a big ass trilogy like this seems a good moment to look back and take stock. It just so happens that for much of this project I kept a lot of tedious records of when and how it was written, so – for the tiny minority of people for whom that might be of some interest – thought I’d go through some of that data and talk a little about the process…
I’d been aiming at 180,000 words a book, each consisting of three parts of 60,000 words. The three books ended up at (and probably not quite final final figures but close enough): A Little Hatred – 177,800, The Trouble With Peace – 195,300, and The Wisdom of Crowds – 199,200. So a little bloating as I struggled to contain all those threads but less than with the First Law where the books went something like 190, 200, 240k.
In terms of development, the first and final drafts of A Little Hatred were pretty much exactly the same length, but it waxed and waned a bit between and in particular I did an extra sort of one-and-a-halfth draft after I’d finished the first (feeling that I now had a much better grip on the characters and story and wanted to rewrite a bit before proceeding with the next book) where I cut everything down quite a lot but also added a few things. Many chapters lost 10% of their word bulk or more as I tightened up, already seeing what I needed and didn’t, what served the characters and story and what could be axed. So the first chapter, Blessings and Curses, for example, went from 3,700 words to 3,000. But at the same time I added a few things – so Sore Spots went from 2,300 to 3,900 as I added an extra scene to it (which was the one of Savine dressing with her maids). I also originally did the uprising in Valbeck purely from Savine’s point of view, but on reflection decided it would work better done partly as a ‘Little People’ sequence, which ended up adding a chunk of words but also of context and variety. The book lost about 7,000 words overall on this draft despite the additions, but gained about 10,000 on the proper second draft (which I did once I’d finished a first draft of all three books), mostly I think with just additional bits of detail, background and character that I knew I needed after finishing a version of the whole story. There were in particular a few extra chunks added to the chapters Civilisation and Good Times – where the main characters and storylines start to intersect and there were things to set up that would pay off over the long haul. The book then cut down a little bit over the course of editing and revision as I streamlined and fine-tuned and ended up a whole 400 words longer than it had been on my first draft. Still, those words were, by and large, a lot better than they had been, one hopes.
The Trouble With Peace is a slightly different story. The first draft was 173,300 at which point I was probably congratulating myself on my concision, but the 2nd draft added more than 20k to end up at 194,500. Looking at the chapters there were still plenty that were notably cut down, but also plenty that got longer – I remember me and Gillian (my editor) feeling that after smashing through the initial draft there were quite a few things that needed fleshing out. In particular I added several pretty chunky new scenes and chapters – the Art of Compromise was new, there was a big chunk added to Dead Wood, New Shoots to give that key funeral some more oomph, the whole Little People sequence with the explosion of Curnsbick’s train was added to get some action and danger into a slightly saggy middle section, and Leo’s chapter Grown Up where he shares an important moment with Jurand in Sipani was new as well. The whole book then expanded gently over following revisions and edits as some things were mildly cut down and others elaborated, to end up within a thousand words of the second draft at 195,300.
The Wisdom of Crowds actually worked pretty similarly to The Trouble with Peace. The first draft was a svelte 178,200, almost exactly what A Little Hatred had been, but the second draft jumped to 195,100, almost entirely because I rewrote a big chunk of the final part having finished a second draft of the other two books and realising I needed to restructure slightly to bring all of my main characters back together for a final payoff. It then followed a similar course to the others, streamlining in some places and elaborating in others and getting gently larger overall in the final stages, including one key scene that I rewrote very late in the game for me, maybe even at copy edit stage, because I felt it needed to hit harder and explain more.
Looking back at my progress reports, which were pretty damn patchy at the time, it looks like I’d finished work on Sharp Ends and was describing myself as on the ‘thinking-about-it stage’ of a new trilogy in September 2015, if you can believe that. A full six years ago. I also said ‘you won’t see these books on your bookstore shelves for quite some time.’ How right I was. My next report was almost a year later (I know, sue me) in August 2016, when I was talking about the general idea of drafting the whole trilogy as a unit before considering when to publish, and said I was half way through a rough draft of book 1. So I think it’s fair to say progress had not been massively fast. By the end of the year I was saying I was not far off a reasonable first draft and continuing to justify my rate of progress (as always), and by the end of May 2017 I was once again apologising for not posting much, explaining my approach again and saying I had finished a draft of the first part of book 2. I know from elaborate weekly word tallies I was keeping during the drafting of books 2 and 3 that I started Part IV on 10th April and finished 22nd May, which means that the thinking about, 1st draft, and a significant rewrite of A Little Hatred took me about 19 months.
Now begins a period of (relatively) frenzied activity, however: Part V was drafted in 5 weeks, June to July, Part VI in 8 weeks, July to September, and the whole of The Wisdom of Crowds was drafted between 17th December 2017 and 28th May 2018 – about six months. I was spending time revising and tidying up each part as I finished it, but on weeks with no big distractions or trips away I was consistently hitting over 10,000 words (which is shit loads for me), with my very best week being that of the 26th June 2017 when I racked up 17,100 words and my very best day being around the 19th March when I managed 5,400. I made a progress report in June 2018 crowing about my success in finishing a first draft of the whole trilogy, and announcing the tentative publishing schedule of the three septembers, 2019, 2020, 2021, a schedule I am now almost as smug as I was then to see we have managed to nail, in spite of covid and a host of other distractions.
Now came the long road of revision and editing and it appears I hit the ground running. By August ’18 I was talking about the process of the second draft of A Little Hatred, by October it had gone off to the publisher and I was well into the second draft of The Trouble With Peace, and by February ’19 A Little Hatred was fully revised, copy-edited and some advance copies had already gone out, while a second draft of The Trouble With Peace had gone off to the editors. In April ’19 I was working on the end of the final book and first using the title Age of Madness.
Now, sadly, it seems things started to slow down. By the time A Little Hatred was about to come out in August ’19 I had at one time hoped I’d be starting on the next project, giving me an immense head start and meaning I would never in my life chase a deadline again. As you have probably already realised… that didn’t happen. There was lots of touring and promotion to do for the first book, and it wasn’t until February ’20 that The Trouble With Peace was with the copy editor – actually closer to publication date than it had been for A Little Hatred – while The Wisdom of Crowds was entering its final stages of revision. Then we had a little pandemic, you may recall and, believe it or not, it wasn’t until the following February, this year, 2021, that The Wisdom of Crowds was out for its own copy edit. Work on the final book had been petering out for a while, though, so I had also started on the next thing and I was saying I was some 35,000 words into a draft. It wasn’t till April that I was tackling page proofs and you can really call the whole trilogy FINISHED.
Long story short, work on a project of this scale always seems to expand to fill the time available, but with a somewhat indeterminate start, and an end that blurs into the next project, I reckon it took me about five to five and a half years to complete, but progress in that time was very lumpy, and massively concentrated towards the middle. Partly that was because of other projects drawing attention at one time or another, but it was also the natural life cycle. The first book took perhaps 18 months to plan and draft, the second and third took about 6 months each, but perhaps half of the whole schedule was spent on a very long – and increasingly patchy – tail of rewriting, revision and editing where a lot of the real work of making it good was done.
Phew. Here endeth the lesson…
Things have been more than a bit disrupted over the last couple of months with no less than two moves and a couple of holidays. But today, after eight months out, we are finally moving back into our house. Totally unfinished, of course, so there’s going to be a month at least in which we’re […]
Hot damn if it isn’t New Year’s Eve once more. This means I must be 43 today. 11 and a half years since I was first published, but I still feel a little strange describing myself as a writer… 2017. Well, it’s been a gruelling year one way or another. A year of inside-outs and […]
New Year’s Eve, and you know what that means? Happy birthday to me. Yes, indeed, I am 41 years old today and this is my 7th yearly review post. Time marches only one way, my friends… I’ve been hugely blog-lazy this year. There are still many authors blogging very effectively, but it’s not quite the standard tool […]
Things have been exceedingly quiet around here over the last month because I’ve been touring in Australia (further details on how that went over here) and also working flat out to get Half a War edited and then copy-edited. The downside of the quick publication schedule (three books in a year) is there’s always going to be a quick turnaround, […]
It’s taken me 3 weeks, which was a good deal faster than I’d hoped, to get a reasonable 2nd draft of Half a War together. It usually does tend to be the case that the process is less horrifying than you expect once you start to tackle it. Some chapters needed some pretty heavy pruning […]
There was a time I was posting here three times a week, but there’ve been no posts for over a month because I have had my head firmly in putting together the 2nd draft of Half a War, third book in my Shattered Sea trilogy. When I first started writing I’d revise every sentence, every […]
I’ve had a few minor bits and pieces to deal with the last couple of weeks including a short story now squared away, which leaves me with no alternative but to tackle a third draft of Half the World, curse it. Few weeks ago I was talking about work on the second draft, which focused […]
People keep asking me whether Half a King is a Young Adult book. Well, yes it is. Kind of. But also an adult fantasy. Kind of. Crossover, you know. Depends a little on who you ask… Categorisation is always a bit of a strange business. Books are often put into a certain genre, or shelved […]
In many ways, at least for me, it’s when I’ve got a complete first draft of a book that the most important work begins. I start with a reasonable idea of who my central characters are and what the plot’s going to be, but both the plot and the personalities inevitably flex and shift as […]