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A bit on the side...

 

No, this is not about early 1970s British TV humour! In this blog, the ‘bit’ is a reference to time.


It’s been a remarkable year for me, with a novel, The Wife Before Last, published in May and the possibility of two more before year-end. In the case of the latter pieces, I have rediscovered the importance of stepping away from the original work after completion. Leaving it to one side for a while. A while – in this instance – has meant more than a year; this being the time required for the publication and pre-release marketing of the first one.

What that rather long caesura has meant, is that I returned to those works as a reader. In the writing courses I have run, I’ve always stressed to authors: ‘Never forget the reader’. We can all become so involved in our work, that we end up wanting to create the perfect piece of writing. In doing so, we may overlook the fact that it is not an enjoyable read. Coming back a year later to my other two novels meant that, in some instances, I had even forgotten what I’d written. There can absolutely be positives, of course – a pleasant surprise, when you find an analogy of which you’re rather proud; a paragraph with which you are delighted.


However, the key thing the break brings is objectivity. For me, that hasn’t meant that the creativity has gone. In both of these works, I ended up writing an additional 30,000 words!

A big part of this is that you are not returning to a blank canvas. Instead, you are looking at your painting of words, seeing things that work, or that don’t, and improving them. They inspire further thought. This applies to plots, of course, but in particular, I believe character development is helped immensely. They become like friends, (or acquaintances, in the case of villains – though each to their own!) who you understand better for knowing them a bit longer. During a first draft, characters in books can often have less dimensions to them than a real person, as we focus on their place in the plot. However, when we return to them, they start to influence the plot, rather than vice versa. For me, in all my books, and no matter what the setting, how people treat, or react to other people is the key. Anyone who has read my novel Let The Game Commence will know there is more than a hint of the Faust legend in it, with someone selling their soul to the devil in return for a reward. However, they will have seen in its setting, a small, rather elite suburban street, that it is what human beings do to each other that drives the world, for better or for worse. Working on that is helped hugely by coming back to one’s writing. At a very basic level, we have more life-experiences when we return!


Now, I’m not saying that everyone should set their completed novel aside for a whole year, but do give it time. What helped me, without a doubt, was having several novels on the go. Reworking one, forces you to close other files for a while. But each to their own. As long as it works for you, it’s up to you how long you have your bit on the side!      

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