Monday, 22 October 2012

Finishing a Novel

I'm close to finishing my latest Lake District Mystery - which is just as well, as delivery date to my American publishers is 1 November.. The title is The Frozen Shroud, and it's the sixth book in the series. I reached the end of the last chapter a short while ago, but since then I've been working hard at improving the manuscript. The Hanging Wood earned terrific reviews, and I'm anxious at the very least to maintain that standard..

Revision is, for me, a crucial part of the process. Although, to an extent, I try to improve what I write as I go along, the reality (for me, anyway) is that until I've finished the book, it isn't possible to get a clear overview of exactly how the story works, and how well it works. Different authors have different approaches, and I don't think it's possible to lay down a template for writing a book that would suit everyone. But one point which is, I think, generally true, is that it is always possible to improve a book. The real question is - where do you stop, where do you draw the line? This is where deadlines can be very helpful, as long as you have allowed enough time to think about the story, so that the finished product does not seem rushed.

There are all kinds of ways in which a book can be improved. One of my failings is a tendency to repeat favourite phrases (yes, I am aware of it!) and I'm keen to keep repetition to a reasonable minimum. That said, there's no point in being different for the sake of it. The key point is that different kinds of books require different approaches. I write the Harry Devlin books, for instance, in a slightly different way from the Lake District Mysteries. In the latter, I tend to favour a steady build-up of suspense, developing character, atmosphere and plot over several early chapters, with a faster pace in the second half of the book. This is not an especially fashionable method at present, and I'd write a thriller, for instance, very differently, but I believe it suits the Lake District series. You have to remain true to your vision of a book, or a series, I think, whatever the pressures of fashion - in fact, I tend to think that is the reason why I've managed to keep publishing for over 20 years. However, one doesn't want to overdo a particular method of writing, and I've tried in The Frozen Shroud to introduce some fresh elements into the telling of the story, as well as into the plot.

Not every writer enjoys revision, but I do. During the course of putting a draft of a novel together, there are usually times when it's impossible not to worry about it. Will the story work? Have I walked the narrow line between preserving what is good about the series and falling into the trap of formula? Now I've completed the story, I feel very positive about it. The challenge now is to make it as enjoyable to read as it can be.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - So glad to hear The Frozen Shroud is on its way to us! That's great news.

And I couldn't agree with you more about the need for balance between staying true to oneself and recognising the value in revising and improving. You also make a good, good point about being aware of one's patterns. That's one I'm thinking about myself at the moment; thanks for bringing it up.

Dr. Evangelicus said...

I agree with revising to vary expression but without being different for the sake of it.

One culprit of the latter is Jeffrey Deaver, who, every time he refers to a thing once feels mortally obliged to call it something different the next time. A bullet becomes 'a solid piece of ammunition', a woman's dress becomes 'the insubstantial blue cloth' and scrambled eggs become the ridiculous ' steaming curds'.

That's the sort of thing you want to avoid, and I'm sure you do.

Dr. Evangelicus said...

May I ask: how much outlining do you do beforehand? Detailed or general? Do you draw up a visual chart or write notes?

Pauline Rowson said...

Well said, Martin, I couldn't agree with you more, it's exactly how I write and feel about writing my crime novels. The very best of luck with your new novel. I'm sure it will also get rave reviews.

Fiona said...

Great news for your fans, Martin! Now you'll be pestered for news of its publication..... :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Looking forward to "Frozen Shroud," Martin!

I also like deadlines, since I'm a chronic tinkerer. Sometimes that manuscript just needs to be handed in...but it's hard for me to put it aside.

Patrick said...

As someone who couldn't write his way out of a paper bag, I'm fascinated by this insight into the work of an author, which I can't even begin to imagine. I loved the two books I've read of yours, Martin, and I'm hoping this next one does well! You're obviously doing *something* right!

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. Much appreciated.
Dr E, I do outline, but not as much as I used to. However, I do know the culprit, victim and motive at the outset. I write some notes, but don't write any charts or diagrams.
Patrick, I know you're a connoisseur of classic crime, so I'm very glad that my modern take on the trad themes have appealed to you.