Things I Learnt Reading the First Draft of ‘The Adventures of Abigail Storm’

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A first draft is like good whiskey, it needs to age. You can’t just finish the thing, put a stamp of approval on it and send it out into the world. You need to barrel it, distil it and you forget about it. Yep, forget about it like a girlfriend that broke your heart, forget about it like you’ve forgotten about Phantom Menace, forget about it like… well, you get the idea. Once I finish writing a first draft I try my hardest to forget it even exists at all. I go to the bar, I play pool, I read more books but the single most important thing I do, I start another project.

After I finished the first draft of The Adventures of Abigail Storm, the very first thing I did was start a new project. Now that I’m trying to forget about that, it’s time to crack open the barrel and retrieve Abigail.

Here’s a couple of things I learnt while reading the first draft of The Adventures of Abigail Storm.

  1. Come armed with coffee.
  2. The first draft is always shit. No matter how much I hope that the novel has rewritten itself in my absence, it’s never happened. I expect the worst, from typos to clunky writing, to embarrassing dialogue and logic holes the size of that asteroid in Armageddon.
  3. Lock the door and turn off the phone. I’m only going to get the chance to read the novel from beginning to end for the first time once. For me, this has to be done in one day. It’s one very long day, but that way I can see the flow of the story in one hit.
  4. The first paragraph isn’t needed. This has been consistent for all my books. I spend hours crafting that first paragraph to perfection like a fine artist in the first draft, only to come by a couple of months later with a red pen and kick it out of the novel. First paragraphs in first drafts are almost always never needed.
  5. Cut ten thousand words, at least. If that sounds like a lot, it is. Ten thousand words is roughly forty to fifty pages and probably a week’s worth of work. Right now this novel is on the fat side and I want it lean and mean and precise. Every single word needs to earn its place, every cliff hanger, every joke and every single word needs to earn its place if I want the reader to turn the page. There’s no room for useless words.

What if what I read is bad? See point number 2. IT IS BAD! But don’t cry. Have a beer. Get up tomorrow and rewrite that bastard.

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DAY ? of ‘THE ADVENTURES OF ABIGAIL STORM’

AbigailStormTeaserPoster

After 10 weeks, 3 bags of coffee, 2 sets of guitar strings, 5 neighbourly complaints about noise, 4 bottles of Wild Turkey, 566 pages, and over one hundred thousand words, the first draft of The Adventures of Abigail Storm is finished.

There’s always a bit of tradition and ritual when finishing a book. Some people get out of town for a week, others don’t leave their room for a week. For me, it’s whiskey and Van Morrison. I wait until I’m typing the very last page, I pour myself a glass, put on the rare Van Morrison live in Japan, 1974 and hammer away at the typer.

Now the choice of whiskey is a very important one. You don’t just go and drink any run of the mill whiskey that you would drink any old day of the week, because what would be so special about that? You have to pull out the big guns for finishing a book, no Jamisons or Makers Mark. So for the past couple of months I’ve had an unopened bottle of Writer’s Tears sitting on my desk taunting me, begging to be opened and enjoyed. I have resisted the urge to crack it open and now the day has finally come.

2014-12-21 14.14.10With Van Morrison in the air, and those words ‘THE END’ not far from my fingertips, I poured myself a glass. And it was the best damn glass of whiskey I had ever tasted. I even dragged out writing the last page so I could knock off a third of the bottle.

So now what? Pop it in the mail and send it straight to the agent and publisher? Hell, no. This monster is full of typos and bad writing. I’m going to let it sit on it for a couple of weeks while I go and finish off that bottle of Writer’s Tears and forget about the entire thing. I’ve got a movie or two to write, some Playstation to play and guitars to annoy the neighbours with. Then, when I’ve just about forgotten about the entire thing, I’ll turn over page one and rewrite the entire thing.

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DAY 65 of ‘THE ADVENTURES OF ABIGAIL STORM’

Pink Abby

What happens when you realise that your 80,000 word science fiction novel is going to be more like a 150,000 word science fiction monster?

I can tell you exactly what happens. First comes the disbelief. Maybe I calculated the words incorrectly? Which in my case could be very likely considering I can’t even remember a phone number. Nope, I crunch them numbers again and it still rolls in at 150,000 words. In the next stage, comes the panic. And I’m not talking about a little internal flutter of panic. I’m talking about ‘the someone has just told you there’s a spider on your back and you run around the house yelling. “is it gone, is it gone”‘ type of panic.

So after I stopped running around the house yelling ‘is it gone, is it gone,’ I sat down at the typer pulled up my outline and poured myself a drink (and left the bottle on the desk). Now, the only really editing tool I possess, is being able to go through a story and working out exactly what is not needed. I try to work out how to tell as much story in as little words as possible.

Half a bottle of whiskey and three hours later, I managed to trim this behemoth of a story back from the 150,000 word nightmare to a more reasonable 100,000 words. That number is still not exactly a walk in the park, but it’s much easier to achieve. How did I pull off such a task you may ask, or you may not, but I’m going to tell you anyways. It was simple, I deleted all the nouns… I’m kidding, that would be crazy talk. I went back to basics and deleted absolutely every sequence, chapter, or scene that didn’t do one of two things:

1) Advance the plot or,

2) Reveal something new about character.

In other words, I trimmed all the fat. Now I still have another 30,000 words to write to reach that 100,000 word target (which is the most of anything I’ve ever written), and I’m sure there’s going to be other obstacles from now until then, but at least for the time being the crisis has been adverted and the spider my back type panic has subsided.

DAY 46 OF ‘THE ADVENTURES OF ABIGAIL STORM’

Another Abigail Promo

Finally! Just broke 50,000 words on the first draft of ‘The Adventures of Abigail Storm’ *cheers*. But still have another 30,000 words to go *sighs*. Those 30,000 words need to be finished in the next fifteen days. There will be tears, booze, violence, me yelling obscenities in the office and hopefully I’ll try and get some writing in there as well.

Here are some highlights from the last week of writing:

1) I’ve finally managed to get the AI powered supercar, K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider into a novel (don’t ask).
2) Writing about the end of the world can be fun.
3) Some mornings I drink so much coffee that I think coffee should probably share credit with me on this book.
4) That the opposite of irony, is wrinkly.

Meanwhile… I’ll be in the office typing away like Angela Lansbury. If no one hears from me in fifteen days, send whiskey.