When I finally plucked up courage to actually start writing the science fiction stories in my head, I didn’t know much about writing. I just wrote. I wrote down my plot, which needed some people to do certain things, so I made up some people. And that was that.
I was really pleased with my plot, but as a novel it just didn’t work. For one thing it was far too short. I put it away while I thought about it and did some reading about writing. I learned, amongst other things, that readers need to care about your characters, so they need to be realistic and rounded. My characters were all cardboard: just devices to further the plot.
I had to think hard about just who my characters actually were and go back to the novel and add it in. This improved it a lot, but it had a long way to go before it would be anything like a novel. I developed the characters a bit, and then realised there were no subplots to add depth to the story. I worked out some subplots, and then realised there was very little conflict – I had eleven men on a space ship who all got on together. Then they became overcrowded and no one minded. As I learned and grew as a writer, I went back over and over to add more layers to it.
Eventually my story got long enough to be a novel and had enough depth to have a chance of holding readers’ attention. I workshopped some key chapters with my writers circle and a writer/editor friend offered to read it for me. The result was encouraging and devastating. She said that the plot was good and the characters were good, but the writing was awful. In adding my layers, the writing had lost its flow and it looked as if it had been patched.
I took a deep breath, made sure I had a detailed outline, and wrote the whole thing again. Then I paid for a professional edit, and shared some more chapters with the writers circle. This raised a whole load more issues, but it was great to hear that they all thought it was a big improvement on the previous version. The novel is now finished and is out with beta readers. We’ll see what issues they raise.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about each of my ‘layers’ in the hope it will help someone who is starting out. I’m not claiming to be an expert – my novel isn’t published yet – and more experienced writers will no doubt find plenty of layers I’ve left out, but I’m just going to give some pointers that I wish I’d had when I was starting out. In this series I’m going to look at characters, conflict, subplots, description, and feelings & senses.
The important thing is not to despair over your writing. Jasper Fforde says, “Spotting what’s wrong should be a celebration because you’re learning.” If you can’t see any problems, THEN you should worry. But if you can, then it means you’ve moved on since you wrote it.