Second Last Words

March 19th, 2012

Part V now reviewed and sent off to my readers (about whom more later), and while I keenly await their opinions on how it all comes together, I’m considering my approach to my first big review and rewrites.  With these standalone books it has tended to be the case that I get a better sense of where I’m going, of what the characters are like and what they need to be like, as I go through, as a result of which it becomes sharper along the way.  The end doesn’t need too much work, the front needs a lot to bring it all into line with the end.  This time around one of the two central points of view has been causing me trouble the whole time, so the first couple of his chapters need more or less rewriting entirely.

Traditionally I’ve used six points of view in every book.  Just seemed a good number to get the right amount of variety and options for covering the action without the whole thing becoming too diffuse.  With The Heroes, as well as the six principals, I did some scenes that strung together quite a lot of additional points of view in one way or another – extras, you might say.  The idea was to spread out the scale, give a feel of the whole battle developing, take brief looks at people on both sides and at different levels of the chain of command and flesh out some characters seen at a distance.  On the whole they were pretty successful, I think.  With Red Country I wanted to try something slightly different, and work with two central points of view plus an occasional third.  By the time I’d written two parts that way, though, I was starting to think that was feeling a bit claustrophobic, and that even though I was aiming at a more stripped down, simple, focused style of story, I was missing a trick by not applying that extras approach to some sections of this book.  So in the third, fourth, and fifth parts I did some major scenes in that style of rapid movement between minor players.  Now I need to write a new sequence in that style to go in the second part, and rewrite a sequence that was previously from one point of view to be from many.

There are some plot points that need to be worked on – ideas I had later to make things work that need setting up (or setting up better) earlier on.  A couple of new characters to slip in, a couple that can be removed, a couple that need mentioning here or there so they don’t come so much out of the blue, one that turned into a woman, you know.  There are some thematic things that need building up, a certain slant to characters and conversation that it would make sense to take – often you don’t really know what a book’s about until you get to the end of it.  There are some suggestions from my readers and editor that will need to be implemented.  Then there is some general character work to do – oftentimes my first pass is a little bland, the dialogue and description doesn’t have enough personality in it, the people don’t come over powerfully enough.  At least with the more central ones there needs to be some sense of their personality in every action and speech, ideally.  So at this stage there will be lots of shrugs, frowns, and raises of the eyebrows, and a lot of characters who talk, well, kinda like I do.  Hopefully most of those can be replaced with something more inventive that tells you something of the character in question.  That’s particularly important for the characters that have appeared in the previous books, of whom there are a few this time around.  They need to feel consistent and vivid, and as a result I probably need to do a read through of the First Law and Best Served Cold.  I wonder what I’ll make of them this time around?  But first things first, I need to read what I’ve got and get a feel for how good/bad certain parts of it are.  And to collate all my mess of notes and plans and see if there are any nuggets hidden in there I forgot to make use of.  Hopefully I can get through most of this stuff by the end of May or before, at which point I’ll hopefully have a coherent, consistent first draft (at least by my standards).  A sigh of relief will be breathed.

Then the work of editing can begin, which will include broad points from my editor plus a detailed markup, passes through to get as much personality into the points of view as possible, to fine tune the setting, to fine tune the language, then a copyedit, then a proof read, and we’ll be thinking about the cover and planning the marketing and publicity, and, and, and…


Posted in process, progress by Joe Abercrombie on March 19th, 2012.

29 comments so far

  • bta says:

    A craftsman at work…. Fascinating.
    Even better, it seems possible that the polishing will result in the final word count being higher than your estimate – definitely a win for the fans.

    Now then, this man that turns into a woman. Gender reassignment in primitive societies? “Nurse, the screens. And the small axe, I think.”

  • Sedulo says:

    Calm down…whoa, that post reads like you need to breathe now! Take care of yourself. I am certain this book will be great. I am convinced of this due to paragraphs two and three of this post which indicate the just the right amount of OCD required to craft novels and edit anything.

  • Dyrewulf says:

    It’s done when you say it’s done. I’m just quite happy to have updates like this so we know you’re hard at work!

  • Devin says:

    Don’t forget to make everyone more vicious and unhappy!

  • Phil Norris says:

    “They need to feel consistent and vivid, and as a result I probably need to do a read through of the First Law and Best Served Cold.”

    So you don’t need a re-read of The Heroes, so no returning characters from there then? We already know Cosca is in – so I guess that’s why the re-read of BSC – but who I wonder is in from the First Law…

  • Ron Ward says:

    I love this kind of post. I always enjoy being backstage, does not matter the event. I enjoy a good show but to be privileged to see the process of creating that show much more interesting. You smell the frantic energy, endure uncalled for outbursts caused by panic, then the show is in motion and the magic flows, is just so powerful to me. Thanks for the backstage pass.

  • JamesM says:

    Great. Can’t wait!

  • A-drain says:

    Joe, I love the snippits of writing life.


    Keep up the hard work. I’ve already writen down this book on my Christmas List.

  • Khaldun says:

    Always love these kinds of posts. Thanks Joe!

  • bryce says:

    Cheers Joe. I’m really interested in the whole Western vibe of this novel. Like all great ideas it seem so simple, surprising no one has thought of it before. There are so many similiarities between fantasy and the western and I always thought of the ‘North’ as a frontier land.

  • Matt says:

    “So you don’t need a re-read of The Heroes, so no returning characters from there then? We already know Cosca is in – so I guess that’s why the re-read of BSC – but who I wonder is in from the First Law…”

    Well, maybe the Heroes is just fresher in his mind, being the last book and all.

    And everyone knows Logan is the characcter from TFL, har har. :p

  • bta says:

    Joe, it seems Gollancz have let the cat out of the bag and named the lead character in your up-coming masterpiece.

    Ah well, the fan speculation was fun while it lasted.

  • Mark C says:

    Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he knows how to play an audience.

    Great insight once again Mr A.

  • Random says:

    About this…..

    “That’s particularly important for the characters that have appeared in the previous books, of whom there are a few this time around. They need to feel consistent and vivid, and as a result I probably need to do a read through of the First Law and Best Served Cold.”

    You are telling me you haven’t memorized your books, i know i have… 🙂

  • Jakub dan Worst says:

    I wonder, are you gonna use the mode of narration you used for Glokta and Bremer?
    BTW, The Heroes is being published in Poland in a month’s time 😉

  • Ooh, interesting stuff. It sounds like you’re going to be a busy busy man.

  • Curtis says:

    Atta boy Joe! Maintain the struggle and we’ll be patient,(he says with his key board in a death grip).

  • Michael says:

    And here was me thinking that you just had a pack of HB pencils, some lined notepaper, and sent it down the road to Mrs Jones for typing.

  • Yojimboo says:

    Great news and loving the “behind the scenes” insight into your creative process. Anticipation building …

  • I’d pay good money to see the before/after for just one chapter. Hell, just one *scene*.

  • LogansTenthFinger says:


    On one hand, that’d be awesome. On the other, I fear that would cause the chapter/scene to lose some of its magic. I image it’d be similar to watching the behind of the scenes or “making of” about a movie your really enjoyed. Seeing the characters in front of a blue screen or in costume but out of character tends to ruin the illusion.

  • Well, I can’t say that the Lord of the Rings bores me now just because I watched two dozen hours of behind-the-scenes features and featurettes! But I agree mileage may vary.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    The Enhanced E-Book of the Heroes has a whole thing on editing, with four or five chapters at various stages in the process. Still not sure when that’s actually going to be made available, though…

  • AntMac says:

    Wow, I had no idea you guys did all that to write a book.

    Wouldn’t it just be quicker and easier to write the book properly the first time?. I joke. 😛

    I am halfway through re-reading The Blade Itself, and I have to say it is just so much more fun the second time through!. I am getting so many little bits of foreshadowing from this read that went right past me before, that I can see what you mean about all this polishing work you do, it is worth it, sir.
    One thing I got this second time, is how Ferros’ perceptions are entirely different to say Logens perceptions. And how that makes her take on all events uniquely hers. I suppose I got that subconciously the first time, but it is neat to read it and understand what is happening too. Poor old Ferro, made a monster by events AND a Magi.

    You know, you are quite good at this writing marlarky!.

  • Joe — definitely looking forward to the Enhanced E-book. Time to bring in Glokta to apply a little pressure to the publishers …

  • TG says:

    So, it seems from this post where you mention “Red Country” and not A Red Country that you’ve settles on it being A-less. I like it, “Red Country sounds edgier than A Red Country.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    It’ll definitely be Red Country in the US. We’re still thinking about the ‘A’ in the UK.

  • Nion says:

    Thank you, Joe, for this blog post! I love to read about how you work. 🙂

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