Last night I finished the first draft of Below.
The last 2%—or rather, the next-to-last 1%—was surprisingly difficult to get through. I found myself needing to come up with puzzles on the fly that I hadn’t planned for, and that led to a lot of writer’s block and second-guessing. Now that I’m through it, though, I can fix those issues in editing rather than letting them hold me up. A lot of writers can do that kind of thing with placeholders, but I’m not really that way.
Next comes the first round of changes. A first draft is just that. The frame of the aircraft has been built, but wires need to be tightened, flaps adjusted, bolts checked, rough edges sanded. I’ve already been keeping notes on how some of the chracters appear to have changed over time, and I want that to be done in a way that looks consistent or reasonable, or else comes off as a surprising revelation rather than a 180. Looking back at a character’s introduction, after I’d given him more depth than in the original tale, I realized his behavior from the outset didn’t fit well with how I now perceived him. Or then there’s another character, usually the last to figure things out, but near the end of the book it seems like he’s coming out with all the revelations; it’s consistent because he’s a slow-thinking type, not a fool, but conveying that well is going to involve some tweaks. Late in the book I realized I wanted more use of “fie”, but earlier in the book it’s absent, requiring a little reworking to keep the language consistent.
On the whole, the book is more or less where I want it. It’s rough, as any first draft is, but this is the point where I can start to make good changes. What I think is working best is the dialogue, the ways the characters interact with each other. With the exception of a possible need to alter some minor plot points, I don’t anticipate having to make a ton of changes in that area. The main thing now will be seeing that I keep descriptions consistent, consistent tone, etc. I forgot by the end of the book how Brenish wears his facial hair; this isn’t critical but it’s the kind of loose detail I need to pin down. Gareth carries a shield and wears a helm, items I mentioned in only a couple of places. I need to be clearer about when a character holds a torch pole in their elbow or sets it aside so they can use both hands.
The first step is probably going to involve setting up brief character sheets, something writers who actually plan things like to do from the outset. (In fairness, I did have source material to work with, but that’s less useful than having quick notes to look at.) I should mark down their descriptions. Their family connections need to be listed, which in most cases means wives and children. Any changes to their equipment, or their health, need to be noted along the way.
It’s gonna be a haul, but with any luck I can bash out the major issues in a few weeks and get the book to beta readers. But first, I think for this weekend I’ll leave it alone. I have something in mind to prepare for Thanksgiving, and Sunday I’ll be under very great temptation to put up the tree. Very great.