Phases of a Book

I’d say I’m just about done with the brainstorming phase of my new book. To give you some perspective, when I write a novel, it usually goes down something like this.

Brainstorming Phase: This is usually about a month. Sometimes longer. I’m always jotting random ideas down and doing the occasional research about something, but this phase is the hardcore focus of all my mental energy on something new. This is also where I do my more targeted researching.

Structure Phase: Once I’ve got a pretty good idea of the world and what I want to say, I make a one page document for pacing. This is really the narrative framework in which the entire thing hangs. I identify the plot points, the hook, changes in narrative phases, etc. It’s not super robust, but I need to know how the story unfolds and where I need to fill getting from A to B. This takes maybe a week or a week and a half. Often times, I go back and do some final fiddling with brainstorming and concurrent research as I build it out.

Outlining Phase: I then turn that one page document into a 16-20 page outline depending on the scope of the novel. I try and break it down into what I think will be the chapters with bullet points telling me what’s going to happen in each one. I also include notes to myself, lines of dialog I’ve already written, and all the must haves and put them where they need to go. It’ll take me maybe two to three weeks to get this whole thing together.

I try not to leave anything blank. I’ll be vague at times in a bullet like “hero gets in a fight and the villain gets away” and when I get there in the manuscript, I’ll have a better idea of what that fight will be, but I don’t like to have an entire protochapter look like:

  • They storm the base
  • big fight ensues
  • they’re about to catch the bad guy, but the tables are turned.

And that’s it. No further details. No reminder of what’s at stake or notes about development. I’ve found that I ALWAYS run into trouble when it’s that vague. Looking at you cough Partners in Crime cough. So I need to iron that out which is why it takes me extra time to get all of that in order.

Writing Phase: The meat and potatoes. It takes me anywhere from 4-5 months to write a first draft. I go through the ole outline and get my words in for the day. Rinse and Repeat. You know how this part works.

Waiting Phase: Another couple months where I distract myself with something else to let the dust settle and the ideas gel from the first draft.

Editing Phase: Another 4+ months of grueling fine tuning and rewriting to make that pile of words into something that someone would actually want to read.

So there you have it. I’m just about finished brainstorming so it’ll be soon onto the structure phase. I’ve written eight novels by now and this is the process I’ve developed for myself. I would like to do more works concurrently: edit one work while brainstorming another, etc. and I’ve done that to some extent, but seeing as I’m not a full time writer, I only have so much time to devote to a project so I’m going laser focused again. Onward to novel number nine!

What I’m Reading: (see, told you I’d bring these back …) Just finished Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red about a, I suppose its technically a cyborg, who calls itself Murderbot and loves serialized media. It was just the right length for the writing style. A strong voice but also sparse on the details which makes sense since its in first person or first bot or whatever … which I imagine would get old for an entire novel. That said, I’m definitely going to read a followup in the near future.

As that was so short, I started John Connolly’s The White Road. For those of you who’ve been reading my blog, I’ve really come around on Connolly. I didn’t care for his first novel, but that last two were pretty great. And you want to talk about voice? They tell you as writer that you should read wide and look for lessons about craft in other peoples’ work. Whether its a duck flying over a salt marsh or the description of a crime scene, imagery in Connolly’s books is just awesome. I don’t mean super cool, I mean awe-inspiring. I’m definitely taking notes.

What I’m Watching: The Imagineering Story on Disney +. Love or loathe Disney, this documentary series is still incredible. To see how they pulled off some engineering marvels is just fascinating. It also serves as a great lesson for anyone interested in customer service and really the value of a product. You can see where they’ve designed a complete user experience and where they were just phoning it in. Each episode is only an hour, but my wife and I keep pausing it to comment and marvel so it takes us twice as long to get through them.

Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

Feverish

It’s one of those mornings.

I got about half my words in, but I’m throwing in the towel. Normally, I’m all about the discipline, but we’ve had a sick household all weekend, so I’m giving myself an excuse. My daughter as croup (the croup? I don’t know …) and my son had a temperature of 102. So, as you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of happy campers. I spent most of the last three nights either being woken up every couple hours to help a kid fall back asleep or myself sleeping on the floor of their room because I was too tired to get back into my own bed after holding their hand, stroking their back, etc. And then to top it all off, this morning I woke up with a sore throat and fuzzy head. I’m exhausted.

So, what I’ll leave you with instead of a success story of getting work done, is something of a rant.

I finished Every Dead Thing, the first Charlie Parker novel, by John Connolly over the weekend and its one of those books I need to talk about a little. For good or ill, it’s stuck with me. And not just because of the horrible juxtaposition of reading a book about child-murders and torture while trying to put your own children to sleep every night …

So the good:

I like the story for the most part and I liked the character voice. The world is loaded with a bunch of colorful characters with interesting back stories. Even the premise is cool: catch serial killer guy who murdered your wife and kid. Sure, good ole revenge story. I’m in. Parallel that with another serial killer story. Let’s get on this ride. But after that …

The bad:

I feel like its two books in one. The first half is about catching a child killer and the second is about the Travellin’ Man, the real antagonist. But ultimately, the child killer has NOTHING to do with the story. That’s half of the book literally wasted. Connolly pulls you from place to place, person to person so quickly, it’s hard to care about anything anymore. It’s weird, there’s an interconnectedness to his characters and the world, but not the plot. Even though he tells you there is, but there isn’t.

And the ending? Look, I like the reveal. That was cool. But there was NO explanation. This is coming from a guy who reads comic books. I accept things like “it’s powered by a black hole.” I don’t need much. But this was NOTHING. No explanation of how the killer did anything. Hell, there wasn’t even a second for the protagonist, Charlie Parker, to even have an emotional response to the reveal and resulting confrontation. I’ve never appreciated denouement more because this book didn’t have any.

The book has obviously stuck with me because it had a great setup but I ultimately feel let down. And I’m not the world’s foremost authority on story structure, maybe if I was an international bestselling author too my two cents would mean more, but I can’t help feeling like this one was off.

Aside from the fact that it was too books crammed into one. Aside from the fact that the first half is literally meaningless. There were little things. Like talking about a cop character who may or may not have murdered a criminal, then when you bring up that criminal’s name chapters later, you don’t remind me what that criminal did. Hell, there are so many names and places in this book, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Or instead of a big climax, Connolly spends more time on a shoot out between two criminal mob bosses that, again, ultimately mean nothing, rather than work on a satisfying conclusion.

I’m also not saying that everything needs to be wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s not even a soggy, cardboard box.

Just weird choices through and through.

OK. I have some very specific questions and points to rant about. I’ve been trying to keep it pretty spoiler-free so far, but that’s gonna stop. You’ve been warned …

 

Still with me? Let’s do this …

So we had the false climax with the gun fight at Joe Bones’s place. What was the point? Bones knew something. But he never said what it was. If Bones knew who the killer was, he’d be dead. That was the one thing we could always count on. The TM wraps up loose ends.

We were told Remarr knew something too, but, again, he didn’t. It never mattered to the plot. What did Remarr even see?

For that matter, why kill David Fontenot at all? It seemed so out of character to anything the TM was doing.

What was the point of the whole first half of the book? So Modine (that was her name, right?) knew who the TM was?! Why? How? That was just there so Charlie Parker could keep obsessing, but it made no sense whatsoever. What, like Sandman, are there serial killer conventions?

How on earth was TM (W) setting up/controlling Byron? Again, makes no sense. And why? To lure Charlie there? But that’s not what brought Charlie to Louisiana. That was a really weird connection and only worked because the plot said so.

And if the TM (W) killed “hundreds” what’s the point of his ‘prentice killings in those barrels only a handful of months beforehand. So, if they’re practice killings, does that mean he kills like someone new every day? That makes no sense. Is he killing lots of people and only now deciding to make art out of them?

And ultimately my two biggest greivences:

We don’t have any explanation from TM (W) as to how he carried any of this out. Half the fun of a detective story is the puzzle. Not just who it is, but how he’s doing it. We’re missing out on that latter half. Fine. He’s killing “because he can,” but there needs to be more than that for a satisfying ending. Why toy with Bird all this time just for this?

And speaking of Bird, for a guy obsessed with the TM he certainly has zero feelings once he figures out who the guy is. Not anger, rage, betrayal, anything. It’s like oh here’s some world shattering news. Oh damn. And then, when Rachel’s taken, he never once even worries about her. No wonder she leaves at the end, Bird’s a selfish asshole.

This could have all been forgiven if there was even an attempt to wrap any of this up at the end, but nope … fade to black. Weird epilogue.

I had to get this out of my system because I wanted to like this book so much. Hell, I did for a while, but like Bird, I was betrayed by someone I trusted too …