Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Progress-- and process-- on Alex Van Helsing #2

The Book seems to take up all my time, even when I'm not writing it.

The book at hand is Alex Van Helsing #2. If that sounds strange because there isn't any Alex Van Helsing #1 out, that's because the lead time on these things is so long. by the time #1 comes out in May, #2 should, if we're lucky, be completely in the can.

In the can-- done, save for a few edits-- by May of 2010, for a release in May of 2011. First draft is due February 1.

So, whatever the inspiration, whatever the story, whatever compelling need to write, in this case there is something very concrete moving the task of writing along, a delivery described in a few short words: "a manuscript of about 50,000 words on February 1."

I'll spare you the story, the actual story, because how could anyone care, not having read the first one. Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was the nuts and bolts.

50,000 words, that's a short book, the length of Fleming's Casino Royale, which was a typical length for spy novels in the 50s. Think of that: I cannot conceive of a 300,000-word "Stephen King's Casino Royale." Spy novels are lean and mean, the plot has to chug-chug-chug, and at the same time, you'll lose control of it, lose it completely, if you allow your characters to fall away or get lost. Why? Because even a short book with no interesting characters is impossibly dull. So, 50,000 words is a short book, but it it's still a book.

I started writing the book, according to my notes, on the second week of November. Until then I was engaged in story jawboning with my editor, which is a strange process where I pitch ideas, make arguments, we try to pick the best direction and flesh it out a little. I put together an outline, knowing that there's a good chance the final result will deviate. But for me, the basic skeleton needs to be there. Stuff you'd like to see happen, stuff to avoid.

It took too long to get started, though. Thanksgiving, a trip to Disney World, and Chapter 1 wasn't complete until November 27. A chapter in this case is usually 1200-2000 words. In general that's about equal to what I can do in an evening.

I write in the evenings. I work a day job and have the two worlds so separated that I have separate everything-- separate PC, separate phone, separate paper. End of the day I come home, dinner, read with the girls, and then, in the full swing of a book, generally I go out to write. Some people have a home office, and I will soon, but the house as currently laid out does not, so I write at a University nearby (I'm an alum, so the security guards never kick me out of the empty classrooms where I plug in.)

If you could do 1000 words a night, in a month you'd have 30,000 words, meaning you'd have a 50,000 word rough draft in about two months. Actually, using the +10% rule, your first draft should be 55,000 words. So basically two months. But in my case, I often take nights off-- birthday parties, whatever. So three months is about what it will take. And in this case, has taken.

Now we are on the cusp, 47,000 words, still looking at a major plot section, the finale, a big rousing number that could very well stretch all the way to the end and beyond. After that it's still not a rough draft, because I've got a checklist of scenes I call "pick-ups," insertions that you realize as you write that you forgot-- certain information, people showing up, introducing a setting earlier. When pick-ups are done, it's a rough. Now, no one ever shows off a rough. No one will see it but me. But still, it's a big deal for me, a crest before the roller coaster falls again.

I think we will have a rough by Sunday night.

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