Some weeks ago, crime writer John Baker invited a number of writers, including myself and fellow Irish crime novelist, Declan Burke, to jot down what each considered to be the phases involved in the actual creation of a novel. My contribution was as follows:
Each story begins for me with an initial premise; a body found on the border, a born again ex-con, a gold mine in the Donegal hills. The premise will float about in my head for a while, during which time I build the layers around it; the main crime, a connected crime and so on. Then I consider the characters involved, try to see links between them or interesting places for them to go. Sometimes, I tease out plot points, or lines of dialogue whilst cutting the grass or driving to work, which I’ll jot down on the back of envelopes, bills, receipts in my pocket. Before I start writing properly, I gather all these scraps together in a notebook and draw up a general plan, a few lines per chapter, for the first third to half of the book, with a summary of the second half and ending. As I write the first section of the book, I revise as necessary and re-plan a little. I tend to write about 1000 words per day, when I can. I seem to hit a natural pause around a third of the way through a book, where I stop for a week or two, take stock of what has happened so far, and get fired up for the next section. Often the story will have gone in an unexpected direction, which makes it all the more interesting for me to write, but which requires some reworking of plot points. I tend to revise slightly as I’m going along (especially the first few chapters), then read and revise several times after the first draft is finished.
I'm now about two thirds of the way through the third Devlin novel, Bleed a River Deep, and have noticed that, once again, the book had appeared in thirds. I got about 23,000 words in, then paused for a week or two, then got to around 47,000 words and paused again. I'm now heading on the home straight of the first draft, for completion by the end of November (hopefully).
I guess I'm wondering how other writers fit into this phase thing. Do you write from start to finish? Do you find yourself writing chunks at a time? How much planning do you do initially? James Lee Burke doesn't plan his novels at all, apparently - he just starts writing. Jeffrey Deaver plans right down to paragraph breaks. Whereabouts in between do the rest of us sit?
And what starts the novel in the first place? And how about the ending? Borderlands' ending developed during writing. Gallows Lane, the ending was there from the start. Bleed a River Deep, the ending's evolving as I write.
Now we're all gathering in one place, so to speak, it seems like the right time to talk about writing, it being the one thing we all have in common, after all.