Another Draft

How many drafts does it take to write a book? More than one, for sure. So two? Three? Five? How many sweeps must one do?

When doing the books in the Paranormology Series, I settled on three as the magic number. The first got the skeleton and the sinews in place, the overall arc, the characters and story. On the second draft, I fill in some of the meaty bits, move things around if they are in the wrong spot, and with the third, I clean up the grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation and the like.

It’s a neat pattern to get into, and it worked well for most in the series – except Hampton Court Ghost, where I scrapped three quarters of the second draft because it was horrible. Sometimes, I guess, things just don’t work out.

With Iris of the Shadows, it is a similar situation. The original work, ‘Darkness from Below‘, was done way back in 2010 or so, maybe earlier, tapped out by stylus on a PDA. There were spelling mistakes galore, grammatical flubs and lots of holes in the plot. It was before I had ever published a book. I was not sure where to start, where to end, what it was supposed to look like, yet I knew I wanted it out and published.

More than this, the characters were derived from a pre-existing mythos, and so it was written more like a fan-work than a standalone book, and so I could never publish it. I was in a conundrum. Here was a labour of love that could never be realised. In frustration, I threw it in the too-hard basket and sulked for half a year before starting on Adaptation.

Over the course of the years, I picked at it, prodded it, half-heartedly changed some points then tossed it back into the basket again to be forgotten for another six months. It was nagging at me – there’s a story that wants to be told, but I hadn’t given it enough attention to tell it properly. Besides, I had the Paranormology Series to go through, and re-working Adaptation into a novel, not to mention Tedrick and his adventures. Like a meowing cat it harassed me until I gave in, and dragged the script out again, and committed to finishing it.

Finishing it? More like starting it all over again! I imported the manuscript into Nimble Writer and took stock. No, no and three times, no. There was a problem with the whole book, and the more I looked, the more evident it became. It needed more history, more character development, more meat. I remember the groan I gave out when I accepted my fate – it startled the cat and Wifey even asked if I’d hurt myself. Not hurt, no. Not yet.

And so the first draft began. In truth it was more like the eighth or ninth. Maybe ten, I have truly lost count. As I wrote, night after night, I watched the book swell into shape, inflate like a bouncy-castle. I ripped chunks out, bits that made no sense, bits that made me cringe. I stayed up in the wee hours to muscle through it, and muscle through it I did.

Then, back on track with the three-draft plan, I went back to the start again and swept through it, bit by bit, looking closer, picking on the fine details. Then I went and printed it out, got my red pen, and went over it once more. All up, that’s something like thirteen iterations over the course of ten years.

How many drafts does it take to write a book? As many as it needs, no less.

Iris of the Shadows – Front Cover

Second draft of Iris of the Shadows is complete. I’ve printed it out and sent it off to my paternal editor to have a good going over with a red pen with lashings of criticism. I need to have a break from all the writing. Where did it end up? At about 202k words. It’s a hefty one.

At the same time, I’m looking at going a traditional publishing route as opposed to self-publishing. I’ve had a look before, but gave up after scouring publishers and literary agents who were just too full to accept manuscripts, or were open to residents of X country, or weren’t accepting anything from speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy or horror. I’ll let you know how I get on there.

In the meantime, I’m moving to the next phase of the book (Some might consider it the most important, despite what the proverb says): the cover.

Initially, I though I might paint in watercolours, or gouache or even sketch it out in charcoal, but my efforts just didn’t match up to what I wanted. I then considered acrylics, but had no time to get that set up, so I went back to my trusty Wacom and Corel Painter:

Sketching characters is made easy, and I was making some progress here, only I had a little guy on my shoulder who said, “It looks a bit like a cartoon, Dad.” Yes, it was Joey. And, yes, he was right, it did look like a cartoon, or at least something like a graphic novel, which wasn’t really the aim of the book. If anything, the more I went along with the design, the more I just didn’t like where it was going.

I changed direction. Rather than drawing or painting or sketching a front cover, I decided to create one out of images, like I did with the Paranormal series. Thing is, old houses and cruddy buildings are easy to come by. You can walk along the street and find them lying about all over the place. People are a bit different. I can’t just go taking photographs of random people without risking having my nose whacked, and I like my nose the way it is.

For this, then, I turned to searching for stock images. There’s a wonderful site called Pexels, and another Unsplash, where you can find a plethora of images, along with links to the artists full range:

Iris was taken from a photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels. Tyrone was from photo by Albert Dera on Unsplash. And the sky and sea are from Johannes Plenio from Pexels. Many thanks to these guys – go and check out their set.

A bit of Gimp manipulation, some coffee and a Monster, and here’s the result:

The images needed some work to get them to fit the mood. The girl had a few blemishes to conceal, and the lighting was a tad washed, so I enhanced the chroma some. Tyrone’s left side was too bright, so I swapped it around to to get it in shadow. The story has a strong element of juxtaposing Tyrone’s stoic nature with Iris’s chaotic tendencies, so the blue island and the orange lightning suits, and the two are positioned so as to be on the same level, but at odds with each other.

I’m not going to work it over too much, not yet anyway, but I think it really helps solidify a book by having a cover to represent it. Anyways, I think it’s time for some lunch and a celebratory beer. Ciao!

By the Numbers

Think you’re done writing your novel? Got to the end, chuffed with the result, and you’re thinking about the front cover and proofing and publishing? Think again.

Second drafts. The slog begins anew. It’s true, the first draft can be tough, especially if you keep revisiting the plot and going back over things and changing your mind. And that’s a good thing, really. It means you don’t have the regret of ‘damn, what I should have done is…’. Happens all the time. By the end of it, you are exhausted and the story is a mangle in your mind.

Well, it is in mine, at least. The closer you get to something, the harder it is to pull back and see the big picture. That’s why I like to at least get the overall arc in there before attaching the fleshy bits.

So where do numbers come into it? That’s the title of this post, after all. Numbers are the means by which I keep myself motivated, track my progress. For a first draft, how do you know how far along you are?

That’s a good question. You can roughly gauge the overall plot in your mind, where the characters are at, how many words overall you’ll want to use… wishy-washy stuff. And there’s always the possibility you get a brain-wave in the middle of the night and shove an extra chapter in there, or rip a couple out. Eek.

So for me, when it comes to the first draft, I don’t really have anything more than a gut-inspired approximation that equates to the Nasdaq divided by the FTSE, multiplied by the price of flake at the local fish and chips.

Second draft is where it gets predictable. For example, with Iris of the Shadows, I finished the first draft after re-re-writing the original Darkness from Below. That was an exercise in itself. I then took a break of a month before coming back at it to start the second draft.

Then come the metrics. I started with something in the order of 160k words. With double spacing between the paragraphs, that equated to 490 pages in A4 at 11pt. Therefore, the processing of a single page was around about 0.2% (this number changes, bear with).

There were XXX notes littered about and jots on the side to remind myself that so-and-so no longer had a jaw, so these needed fixing, but overall it’s a matter of read, write, read, delete, read, (cringe) correct, rinse, repeat. So on the first day I managed to grind through ten pages. That means I did a whopping 2% in a day. If I continued at that pace, every day, I’d be looking at completing the second draft in 100% per day / 2% = 50 days. Throw in a couple of weekends, and that’s about two months.

Not a bad estimate, so long as I can keep the pace up. The next question is, how long does a page take to review? That’s a trickier question. One page might take all of five minutes, another might be a full hour. This is where averages come into it. I found that, on any given uninterrupted night, I could do ten pages in two hours, which is 120 / 10 = 12 minutes per page. Given 490 pages, that’s 490 x 12 = 5,880 minutes to completion, or 5880 / 60 = 98 hours to completion, or just on 4 straight days without sleep. That last one is useless, so let’s go back to the 98 hours and say ‘I can do 2 hours per day’. That means 98 / 2 = 49 days, which is pretty close to the other estimate of 50 days based on pages.

That’s two different ways to estimate that both arrive close to a common figure. Anecdotally, I can say that’s about par for me for my other books, too.

The page count was interesting. As I went along, I was deleting words and re-arranging things, and adding to the narrative. Overall, I found I was adding to the word count. At the same time, I was removing the double-spacing after each paragraph, so the page count was reducing. This meant that by the end (I’m at about 87% right now) the pages are getting closer to 400, not 490, so each page is now worth 1/400 = 0.25%. At the same time, the word count is approaching 200k. It feels like I’m accelerating (ever so slightly).

I use these numbers to help. At the end of the night, I take the current page and divide it by the current page count to give a relative progression. Some nights, I can only squeeze in 0.5%. Other nights, I gun through 2.5%. Other nights, it’s doughnuts because of other commitments. Still, as I write this, I can look back and see just how far I’ve come, just how far I’ve got to go, and this motivates me to arrange things more to squeeze out another fifteen minutes for that next page.