On Writing, Sand Dancer

Book Two Draft One Done

Good news everyone! I finished the first draft to Sand Dancer’s sequel!

Bad news! It came out at a cool 195,000 words! Y I K E S! No wonder it took me so long to write it, I practically wrote two books!

I’m pleased that I’ve managed to complete another draft but I sure do have a fight on my hands. My priority now is to create a reverse outline of all the chapters I’ve written so I can see where chapters and content can be cut to wrestle this wordcount down to something more manageable. For reference, the original Sand Dancer is approximately 120,000 words. I need to aim for something near there or just above. Whatever my publisher lets me get away with.

As you can see from the chart below, I didn’t always write every day:

My writing progress these past months!

My process for drafting this sequel began with creating an outline. I already knew how this story was going to start, what the major events were, and how it would end. I wrote a rough outline of what I expected each chapter to include and began writing with this outline in mind. However, my method of writing allows a little freedom so I don’t exactly stick to my outline. I’m a plantser; a combination of both a plotter (someone who outlines) and a pantser (someone who makes it up as they go along). When I begin a new chapter, I bear my outline in mind and write a scene breakdown of the actions or beats of what will happen in that scene. I don’t worry about things like theme or specific details for a first draft. These are all things which will be added or improved on a re-write.

I’m a linear writer. This means I write in order of my outline beginning from chapter one. I know some writers love to skip ahead or write the exciting scenes first, but I can’t do that. Writing a story is like going on a journey with these characters. I need to be with them every step of the way and experience their journey with them. I like to get inside their head and feel their emotions which then helps me to write the next scene or the next chapter with the previous interactions in mind. Though, I have to say, I was less disciplined with this draft.

As you may have guessed by my truly horrifying word count, the story veered off track a tad. As I wrote it, I realised that the story was moving in different directions or revealing new facets to me, so I stepped back from my outline and allowed the characters to explore these new elements. Often, I don’t know what a story is or what it’s trying to be until I write it, and toward the end of this draft I had a clearer idea, which would unfortunately mean changes earlier on in the draft to reflect it. Sometimes I don’t understand what a character wants or needs, or what the bad guys are planning until the end. But these are all things which can be smoothed out with a rewrite. Though I write linear, I found myself updating the story on the fly as new information presented itself instead of going back and editing previous chapters, which is something I definitely did with Sand Dancer book one. To that end, I was disciplined.

What this ultimately means is I have a beast of a book which needs taming. Thankfully, rewriting and editing is my favourite activity. No, really. Stop laughing.

I’ve already shared my process for editing, and this draft will be no different. I’m taking a couple of weeks break, partly because I’ve spent too long on this book and need a break, and partly because taking a step back and separating yourself from your own writing can help you come at it with a fresh mind and spot the issues easier. As mentioned above, my first priority is to create a reverse outline. This could take some time as I read through my gargantuan story and work out a plan for what must be cut or changed.

What is a reverse outline? It’s like a normal outline where you list your chapters, but instead you take the finished manuscript and list each chapter to say what it does, where the stakes and conflict are and how it fits with the plot, character development and theme. I use a reverse outline to also see where all the calm scenes are in relation to the actions scenes. By labelling scenes this way, I can see if I have too many calm scenes vs action scenes and balance them out. Too many calm scenes can bore a reader, but too much action can stress them out. Balancing them helps steady the pace of the book so it’s not too slow or too fast. Something I want to get right.

I also have a massive pile of notes on my desk which need to be organised. These are all ideas for things to change or include in these scenes. My recycling bin needs emptying!

Looking at my sequel, I can already tell there are certain scenes which won’t make the cut. I have a large section based in the Gaisland forests which will likely go. This saddens me, as I wanted to explore more of Sandair and my beautiful map. But if it doesn’t fit the story, it needs to go. Or at least be set aside for a short story later in the future. Part of editing a book is deciding what the story needs and showing no mercy.

Kill your darlings.

Wish me luck in the battles to come!

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