The Four Protocol
So, even by my own low, low standards, this blog is horrendously late. But I've come armed with the ultimate excuse. After ten months of headaches – due, in part, to bad organisation on my part (more of which later) – I finally submitted Book 4 to editor and agent on October 1st. The initial response from their first read-through has, thankfully, been positive, and that's a big relief.
But, of course, there's still a long, long way to go. The first draft isn't anywhere close to 'finished', at least in the sense of being publishable, and over the course of the next six months or so, it will continue to change and evolve. What I do have now is something to work from; the foundations of the book, with all the plotlines in place, the characters (largely) where I need them to be, and an overall sense of the story. Next, comes the crafting: it needs chopping down in terms of length, it probably needs speeding up in terms of pace, and – as you'd expect – it needs lots of polish.
Still, if you can hear a clang at this point, that's the weight continuing to drop from my shoulders, because – to be honest – there were times in which I doubted I was ever going to get to the end. Book 4 became a project that just continued to grow, even though I'd planned it out, even though I always had a destination in mind. In fact, in exactly the same way as I'd done with The Dead Tracks and Vanished, I was fairly meticulously in my planning: I wrote an 18-page synopsis of the story, always knew the direction it was headed (although, as is my MO, left some wriggle room in case I needed to take it off somewhere unexpected) and the first five months of the write went pretty much as expected. I'd tried something a bit different with Book 4, right from the off, and it seemed to give me a new lease of life. I powered through to 60,000 words relatively unhindered.
But then I realised that, although I'd stuck to the plan (ish), I'd also incorporated a lot of new elements on the fly; elements that, I believed, made the book better, but elements that all had to be resolved nonetheless. Ultimately, it meant I had more storylines to tie up than I'd initially intended, made harder by the fact that the book deals with multiple characters, sometimes in multiple timelines, and I'd never predicted – as crazy as this sounds now – how complicated that would become in terms of tying it all together. So I immediately put a call in to my editor to tell her I wasn't going to hit the 1st September deadline. Better to be safe than sorry, I thought.
Except things didn't really get any easier. I hit a key chapter at the beginning of August that took ages to get right – inexplicably so – which held up the entire book for a couple of weeks, and as I got to the three-quarters point, I realised one of the major plot strands would work better done a completely different way. Make that decision in a thriller and it all goes a bit Jenga: you pull one block out and the whole thing comes down. Instinctively, though, I knew it had to be done: it would make the book better, and the only reason not to do it was because it was hard.
So I pulled the block out.
It added about a month on, because its impact echoed throughout the whole course of the book, but in the end it was worth it. If I hadn't have done it, the book would have suffered for it – and, if nothing else, it taught me that, for a novel of this size, an 18-page plan simply isn't enough.
What I love most about writing is that it's a constant learning process. Every book has taught me something new about planning, about characters, about plot construction, and about endings. If I didn't get to the end of a novel and feel like I could correct some part of my experience the next time around, I'd genuinely be worried. The Dead Tracks taught me about pacing. In Vanished, I learnt how to balance two main characters in two parallel storylines. But Book 4, of all them – including the ten-year write that was Chasing the Dead – has probably taught me the most.
P.S. As a few of you have asked, here's what I've been reading since the last blog:
The City and the City, China Mieville
The Snowman*, Jo Nesbo
The Afrika Reich, Guy Saville
Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program, Peter Earley
The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly.
What have you been reading? Pop any recommendations in the comments below!
*Yes, I realise I'm massively, massively late to this one.
Author of the David Raker novels