S.J.A.Turney's Books & More

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And a book is born…

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From time to time, I find myself discussing methods of research, planning and writing with other literary folk, and I thought it would be interesting to try and put the whole thing down on paper (so to speak.) And here it is in all its gory. It may interest you. It may not. But it’s interested me, so there!

There are two ways I write books, and it depends on what I’m writing. Essentially, if I’m writing a Marius’ Mules novel, it begins with reading the appropriate year of Caesar’s diary and that gives me the historical events and the bare bones of a plot to work around. Essentially, MM novels are defined closely by what I can do to play with the events in Caesar’s diary, so they do not fit so well with the rest of my works.

For anything else (the Ottoman books or Tales of the Empire, for example – or other works I’m presently keeping hush about) it works like this:

  • An idea/theme/character/event piques my interest. These vary greatly. The discovery of a wonderful, strange – and hardly historically mentioned – event sparked The Thief’s Tale. The exotic Barbary pirates sparked The Priest’s Tale. The terrible effects of revenge upon its perpetrator sparked The Assassin’s Tale. Interregnum was born from a game of chess. Ironroot from the idea of a dead man solving his own murder. Dark Empress from the the idea of how divergent and truly altered friends can become, dependant upon events. Often I will worry around the subject like a wobbly tooth for a week or so and gradually the framework of a plot will evolve around it.
  • I examine the historical and geographic framework of the story, selecting any historical characters or events or real places that will impact on the plot. I will then go and purchase appropriate research materials for them, making my bank manager shed a tear and book stores buy party favours for the fourth-quarter-upturn celebration, and I will bookmark half a million websites (badly indexed, of course, so that I will only find half of them when I need to. I am not half as organised as I like to think I am…)
  • I sit down for a week with all my info and write, re-jig, plan, and then tidy it all into a single series of events, including anything historical in the appropriate position. This is the point when a pile of papers, books, websites and dictaphone notes becomes a viable story. At this point I create an extra file that contains details of the characters, locations, themes I want to bring out, and story arcs that will thread through the tale. From this point on until the book is finished, the office gradually clogs up with piles of books which periodically get tidied away only to come out the next day and block out the light from the window as they tower threateningly above me.
  • Around here (sometimes one point earlier, sometimes one later) I plan and embark upon a research trip. It is important to me to understand not only the geography and physical layout of any locations in my books. I also like to know what they smell like. What they sound like. How they feel on a hot day (or cold, rainy, etc.) How tired it makes you walking up it. I like to check the flora and fauna. While there I take a thousand photographs and make endless dictaphone notes. Anything that happens to me there almost always makes its way into the story (tripping on tree roots, getting drenched in downpours etc.) This often ends up with me taking Tracey and the kids on a 300 mile round trip so that I can walk up a small mound and photograph it from a hundred angles while I sniff a lot!
  • Another week and I will take that long text file and break it up into chapters of appropriate length, with cliff-hangers in appropriate places, making sure that I try to spread out the action, the plot reveals and the slow, deep character stuff so that there’s a little of everything in every chapter if at all possible. This is the week my wife doesn’t like because I get grumpy when I’m interrupted. As often as not this week actually ends up, rather than everything tightening, with an increase in chaos and clutter.
  • And then… I write. I try to set  myself goals. These vary depending upon circumstances, but might be a daily wordcount of 5,000, or five pages of text in 10pt arial. It might be to complete two chapters in a week. You get the idea. I will have a schedule on a calendar on my office wall. Regularly this will be tweaked depending upon how often the kids come into my office with armfuls of toys and drive cars across my keyboard. It may also be coffee-or-beer-supply dependant!
  • Each time I complete a chapter, I go back over it with a fine-toothed comb for grammar, spelling, typos and the like, but also for anything I’ve missed out, anything that’s blithely superfluous or anything that doesn’t quite fit or sound right. Since my actual book writing happens over a short time (usually less than 3 months for the first draft including by-chapter edit) I find it easy to check whether the theme, pace and plot threads are staying in line as I do these edits. Plus, this way, when it comes to the post-draft edits, half the work is already done for me. Speeds up the editing process and takes a lot of the pain out of it.
  • Also, at the end of every chapter, I run it past two proof-reading friends, who pick me up on anything they find. So I guess you could say that every chapter has had three edits  before the draft is complete.
  • Invariably, as I write I will find the plot drifting off course. Sometimes this is unhelpful and has to be put right in the chapter edits or even a full re-write if too bad. It’s just simply that I leave room for variation in my planning so that if I am hit by inspiration and epiphany as I write, I can allow it to influence the plot. You see, sometimes the accidental drift actually improves the plot. And once, in my past, it has been so good it has actually caused me to rewrite the whole chapter plan and change the ending completely! Characters have a tendency to take on a life of their own and that makes them fight their destiny, you see?
  • Some time in the last week of my schedule (which is several weeks past the original end date as it keeps getting set back and back on account of kid-based jollity) I write the word ‘Epilogue’. That is the best moment in the world. Much better than ‘The End’. Because if you’re at ‘Epilogue’ the plot is complete and all you’re doing is wrapping it up in the nice emotional part (or the dreadful unforeseen violent end part, of course.) I thoroughly enjoy this part. When you hit ‘End’ conversely, the drawn out process of editing begins, crushing the joy a little.
  • End. Bottle of something fizzy to celebrate.
  • Edit. Plus potential hangover. Now begins the process of going over the whole book, reading it as best I can as if I were a genuine reader and not the writer. I will mark whole sections that need to be changed, removed or explained with extra text. The writing gets tidied. Extra description added as necessary. Bumf gets removed. I gather that it is common practice for writers to pare down their wordcount heavily through this process. I generally find I add 10%. Ah well. Can’t have too much of a good thing, eh? 😉
  • After a major edit, I am left with pretty much the finished article. It’s had four edits by now, three during the writing and one after. I will then have a really quick last read through, checking for anything glaring.
  • Then, with a sigh of relief and a lip-bite of tension, I send the finished work to perhaps half a dozen test readers, who will undoubtedly find the odd typo or error, but mostly will point out anything that needs to be changed for the good of the story and its flow and arc. A couple of weeks will pass and I will get the results, which will resulty in another feverish week of editing.
  • And lo and behold: the book is ready.

And then begins the hard bit! For a first time, or an agent manuscript, printing, promotional stuff, letters, synopses, recommendations sought etc. For those self-published works, a cover, formatting for release, dealing with the various publishing companies etc. And then: promotion, promotion, promotion. After all, book sales are competitive. Readers can only afford to buy so many books, and while I will always direct fans to those other writers whose works enthrall me, I want to try and make sure I don’t sink to the bottom of the current release pile. 🙂

So that’s it. That and the fact that I always have the plans for at least the next half dozen books floating around in my head and/or laptop.

Hope that if you’re a budding writer this helps in some way. To be honest, it helps me no end!

As an old friend used to say: ‘see you in the funny pages…’

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Written by SJAT

July 29, 2014 at 10:59 pm

One Response

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  1. And I truly thought I was organised. I can see I am not by the SJAT standards. Sigh!!!!

    Like

    prue batten

    July 30, 2014 at 5:29 am


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