I still find it a bit awkward to say that I have a "book". It is indeed a book, and not having been published doesn't lessen that at all. However, like I explained in my post about writers being ashamed or writing, I have some reservations in saying the actual word to people. But hey, what the heck, I have a book dang it!
That aside, I thought I might relate some experiences and thoughts about my own process and experiences writing it. As some of you may know, I began writing it earlier this year, sometime in April or May. My goal was to complete the first draft in one month, just in time for college to start. I was, of course, insane. But it ended up working out.
I don't want to repeat myself from other posts, but I do want to put out there that goals and schedules made it possible. What do I mean? Let me explain (don't worry, it'll be brief). When I started my first book, I had no set structure or short term writing goals (such as: so many words per day, or finish this scene by tomorrow, etc). With "The Sometimes Sword" I made a point of doing so, specifically 5 pages were to be completed per weekday, and 10 per day on the weekend. It was the only thing that got me to finish the first draft. In other words, it was all-important to me. I only missed two days, but seeing as I was sometimes writing 30 pages per day on the weekends, it all worked out.
Moving on, I want to lay out some of the problems I came up against, and how I found solutions to them (and if I didn't, feel free to give me some advice).
There were many advantages to starting out blind, with no world-building or outlining to speak of (see my posts about Setting and Character). But there were also disadvantages, one of which was character development. I started out with a name, and a vague sense of personality. That was it. While this gave me freedom to go any direction I wanted as I wrote, it also made the process a little messy. For instance: my main character started out at 12 years old, but by the third chapter, I was writing him as a 17 year old. And my alpha readers could tell that he was getting older in my brain without me ever telling them. That required a bit of revising (which is a frustrating use of my time). It ended up working out, and the character is much better suited to the story at 17 years old.
Another problem was personality and quirks. All of my characters were written on the spot, as I needed them. Some never had much of an issue; there are three side-characters that developed strong, recognizable personalities from the get-go (not that there wasn't occasional need for tweaks). Unfortunately, my two protagonists (a teenage boy and girl) started out a little bland. They had no quirks to speak of, no voice, and no especially strong feelings about anything. This wasn't an insurmountable problem, but it did take a lot of time and extra material written to straighten out (on a side note, I'm glad it turned out this way, otherwise I might never have written several rather nice scenes. So it's not all bad).
My main focus was the addition of quirks and thoughts. I had struggled with quirks for a long time, scared to over do it: "Marion flipped her hair in annoyance," or, "Halmul's eye twitched before he could complete the lie". These aren't truly horrible, but if they become the one thing you identify your character by, your readers will quickly become annoyed. That being said, don't be afraid to explore natural reactions and quirks your character might have. It's a work in progress for me, and will continue to be so until the last draft is finished. Character thoughts, for me, are a great tool, one I wish I had utilized more from the start. Using italicized thought "bubbles" (not really a bubble, but an actual thought they have in their head, similar to a comic strip character's thought bubble) in the text allow you to get right into the character's head, and allows for direct communication of voice. I'm still in the process of adding a lot of thoughts into the individual character's point of view.
One smaller problem I ran across with character was last names. My world has surnames as part of their culture, but my characters don't. It was a simple, but frustrating oversight. I have yet to introduce a surname for my male protagonist.
I had always wanted a simple setting for this book, one that would make the reader feel comfortable. I didn't want complicated political plots or intricate religious dogma. I wanted to use terms like "The City" or "The King's Road". Now, I have nothing against broad worlds with insanely developed cultures and inhabitants (in fact, my favorite series The Wheel of Time is full of that stuff). But it wasn't for me, at least not yet. I feel like it has helped me stay a bit more focused on plot and character. At the same time, it also made it a bit difficult for my alpha readers to orient themselves within the world. As a result I began adding more details, gave some things actual names and so on. It still feels simple, but now it's a bit more fleshed out. Don't be afraid to adjust your original vision sometimes.
One more thing about Setting. In the wish to write simple descriptions, I feel like I might have gone too far, and left out a lot of opportunities to beautify my world. I regret that a small bit, but it's nothing I need to go back and redo.
Holy crap Plot. The bane of my existence (no wait, that's editing). I've always had ideas for great beginnings, and sometimes good endings, but middles... middles are the bane of my existence. Okay, enough with that phrase. My default go-to plot is the travel log. Such as: protagonist has something bad happen to them, so they have to travel somewhere to fix it. Stuff happens in the mean time. That's pretty standard right? (And just to be clear, I think I pulled it off well enough in "The Sometimes Sword".) Just find some crap to do to them on the way. Well, it's not so easy as that. I found myself writing things in that had nothing to do with the overall plot. See, there's nothing wrong with events happening to make things hard for your character (see my post on writing dark fiction) or establish your world, but they should also serve a purpose in moving the story forward. I'm still trying to revise large chunks to make them fit the story arc better.
Watching the curve of your plot can be really hard to do. The book itself is too big to really see the whole thing in my mind's eye. It's something I still need to watch.
This is one thing that I am completely willing to admit is my weak spot. I can get it right after a while, but when my first draft was finished... it was bad. Let me tell you. I have to keep reminding myself that dialogue needs to sound natural, that I can't just dump info every time a character opens their mouth (sometimes called maid-and-butlering, look it up on Writing Excuses for more info). My dialogue tends to follow this format: Person 1 asks question, Person 2 answers. Person 3 asks for clarification, Person 4 gives clarification. Ugh. It's horrible, and I want to scratch my eyes out when I read it. Only after careful examination can I fix each conversation.
This is my intended fix: once all the other problems are fixed with plot, setting, and character, I'm going to sit down with my wife and alpha readers and have them read the dialogue like a play. I'll listen quietly and type revisions furiously as all the awkward crap floats to the surface. I'm actually looking forward to it.
I still feel a bit in the dark about this one. Voice is almost an ethereal, unattainable quality to me. It's the thing that makes a writer instantly recognizable just from reading their work. Some might call it the writer's style. It's something I know will come with practice, and some might say it already exists in "The Sometimes Sword", but I have my doubts. For now, I don't have much advice to give, as I myself need some.
So there are some of the things I have struggled with in my book. They certainly aren't all of them, and I might continue on with a few more in the future. What about you? What mountains have you come across in your writing, and what are you doing to surmount them?