Writing My Seventh Novel – Part Ten

I have passed the 70,000 word limit! I have reached my target. Everything else that I write after this point I consider a bonus. I have mentioned previously that some people question the need for such an objective, but I find it useful. Reaching 70,000 words means that I have everything I need for producing a basic novel. It is of the length that the majority of readers appear to want in a book. The story develops, moves at pace, and it all follows a logical sequence of events to a conclusion. All of these aspects of writing are really to do with the technicalities of the process. The 70,000 word limit is just that, a technicality.

Reaching this point means that the book is close to being finished. That is a significant point in the writing. All the of the basic story is done, everything that follows is refinement. This is not quite the editing stage. I am now dividing the book into chapters. Working on each individual chapter gives me an opportunity to review what I have already written. This can be invaluable. I had several very clear ideas of the themes for this book, but I am aware that not all of them have developed the way that I imagined. Now, this could be for several reasons, probably just I got obsessed by one or two other themes and simply forgot to include the others. It does not matter why, it is more important that I spot what has happened and decide what to do about it. The choices are simple, but the outcomes can sometimes be more complicated. I could just forget some of the things that I was going to write about. That would mean reviewing those passages where I have made references to a topic I originally intended to become a theme and remove them. Not so simple really. The other option is to pick up where I left off, decide how much I want this in the book, and write new material that allows for that. This, I find, is often the more rewarding choice. As I have reached the 70,000 word mark already, it also means that this will not be an exercise in padding out the story. That is a very important consideration.

Artemisia Montessori has now become one of the two main protagonists in the book. She simply developed into too interesting a character to remain in a supporting role. It is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing, how a character can develop and grow so much. Originally, I thought that she would be fun and a little exotic, but the more I wrote about her the more she contributed to developing the theme of people not always being what they first appear to be. On the surface, she is a shallow assassin, trained and used by her government, but beneath that veneer there is a person pursuing her own agenda and it is not immediately obvious what her objectives are. This gave me a couple of problems, good problems, writing problems, because I knew what her agenda was, obviously, and I had to figure out her motivation for continuing in a story that, at one point, no longer really concerned her. How did I resolve that? Read the book when its finished; I am not giving a way any spoilers here!

As Artemisia grew I became concerned that the original protagonists, Doc Hunter, would begin to diminish. Initially, he did. Working on the early chapters I realised that I had not written him to his full potential. This only became obvious when working on a later chapter and reviewing what a character said about Mephistopheles’ plans. I realised that I had subconsciously hamstrung the action in Mephisto’s lair, which had limited the opportunities to show what a great action here Hunter is. I wrote a little vignette that I thought was important, but then went on to use it as a justification for limiting the violence in the opening scene. I can see now, in reviewing the chapters, that this was a mistake. Mephistopheles has a good reason to have a private army, and also why it should be filled my some of the most reprehensible people that he could find. I just have to work a little harder to develop the points raised in the vignette while also throwing in a lot more mayhem, death, and destruction.

Hunter himself does develop as a person rather than as a hero. I am trying very hard to avoid the clichés of the genre. His relationship with Artemisia has developed quite well and even become something of a point of contention between him and another character called Frasier. This guy, Frasier, needs more work too. On the surface, he is an all-American hero type, but underneath he has a side that it is not at all attractive. I like the transition he goes through to reveal this other nature, but it needs more development.

There is another character who keeps demanding more, but I have not yet figured out a satisfactory way of giving it to him. He calls himself Ajax, after the Homeric hero, but when he first appears he is clearly a violent thug. His mother was a prostitute and he was abandoned by society at a young age to become a criminal. He has killed many people and committed many crimes. The question is, why would he identify with the hero Ajax? There is a clue in the name that you might discover if you have read the Illiad or know anything about the character of Ajax. He needs more work too.

When I began working on this book I wanted to limit the action to the protagonist’s point of view. I have read books where the reader is given an almost omniscient overview of the story. They get to see what the villains are doing and then how the heroes respond to that. Although I understand the reasons for writing in that fashion, I personally find it often dilutes the tension. It is not difficult for people of imagination, which most people who read are, to work out what comes next. I wanted to present events only as they are experienced by the protagonists. My intention is to increase tension by not giving road signs to possible outcomes. I have remained true to this, but allowed Artemisia to follow a path that takes her physically away from Hunter. Although the reader learns what she learns, and also learns what Hunter learns, the two lines of inquiry are limited and not complete until Artemisia and Hunter meet up again and combine their knowledge of the mystery. Yes, this means that the reader has a bit more information than either of them, which is not strictly remaining to true to how I wanted to write the book, but it is only a small deviation. I think that the benefits justify the approach.

So, I am now at the stage of reviewing the whole manuscript and looking to make improvements and, if necessary, changes that will lift it a degree higher in terms of quality. I like the story. I like the subject matter. It is a thrilling adventure story that includes mystery, violent encounters, travel to exotic locations, and an examination of the world’s problems today, as seen from 1933. It gets a little philosophical in parts and might seem a little negative, downbeat even, about the human propensity for self-destruction, but this book is not what it first appears to be anyway, so there is another success in its writing!


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