So I’ve finished my first (extremely rough) draft of the first part of my new book. Which means, bizarrely, it’s already about one fifth completed. Strange, since it feels I’ve hardly started it and still have only the vaguest grip on at least one of the two central characters and most of the details of the setting…
They say that authors can be roughly split into architects and gardeners (or at least arranged upon a continuum between those two poles), that is to say those who plan everything in fine detail and then closely follow the plan, and those who work much more organically, starting with a notion, or a scene, or a character, and then seeing where it leads them.
I’d always have put myself much more in the former camp. Careful planning then filling in the blanks. Indeed the idea of working entirely organically fills me with dread. With the First Law I had a go at writing the initial scenes, a lot of which had been brewing in my mind for years, but even then had a pretty good idea what ground I wanted to cover and how I wanted to end things. Quite quickly I realised I needed a more explicit plan and started working that out, then stuck to it pretty closely over the five years or so it took me to write the trilogy.
But over time I must say I’ve started to drift towards gardening. With Best Served Cold I felt I had a pretty coherent plan, a solid idea of the histories of the characters, their role in the story. But when I came to write them I found myself pretty much floundering, and having profound doubts about what I was doing and whether it would work at all. Writing the first couple of parts of Best Served Cold was probably the most difficult period I’ve had as a writer, in fact. But, deciding just to push ahead, I started to get a stronger grip on the people, how they needed to think and behave, and as a result how I needed to write from their points of view. The characters, their roles in the story, and the methods of writing developed together, if you like. So by the time I’d finished a first draft I was much happier with the whole concept, and was able to go back to the start and quite radically change things around (mostly through a lot of cutting of thoughts and feelings that really didn’t need to be there and letting action and speech do the work). With The Heroes, therefore, I was more confident in leaving the first parts pretty loose, letting the characters and story shift about into their proper configurations, then revising the whole thing en masse once the first draft was complete. With this latest book I’m leaving things rougher yet, and trusting to the Fates and experience that by the time I’ve finished, I’ll know exactly how the people should speak, think, and act, and in the editing I’ll whip the whole thing into shape with a minimum of fuss and wasted time. Honestly, I’m still not sure exactly how I’m going to end this one. I’ve got a few possibilities, but I think I’ll wait and see what feels right when I get there.
But whatever it is, obviously, it will be great.