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My Family: First Draft 50% Complete

The time for another update on My Family and Other Ghosts has arrived. As is my wont, this serves several purposes:

  • To tempt with you the delights that are coming

  • To tell you a little about my personal writing process

  • To record my progress, so you and I can both look back to see if what emerges at the end bears any resemblance to what I was expecting

The good news is that I have just reached the end of part 1 of 5 of the first draft of my novel. Despite only being part 1, that's actually around 50% of the novel, thanks to the somewhat skewed narrative, coming in at just over 38,000 words. I'm pretty pleased with it so far. I have a series of notes to apply when I go through and create the second draft, but it's nothing too major at this stage – sometimes they're just things to check for consistency and to ensure Alex and Lisa's character arcs move at the speed I was anticipating.

When I say "first draft", I have applied a first pass edit to all the chapters written so far and made minor tweaks as I've been progressing. I'm a bit of a slow starter writing each day, so I usually spend the first part of the morning reading what I'd written the day before, and fixing it. It usually makes the second draft much smoother.

This image below shows the chapter structure I ended up with for part 1 by the time its first draft was complete. Unusually, other than chapter naming, it's not too far off what I planned at the start.

When I started writing part 1, I knew the premise of the book very clearly and knew how the first three chapters would pan out. I also knew how I wanted the first part to end and what I had to achieve by that point. Beyond that, things were a little hazy. I always planned to follow that up with shorter parts from Lisa's and Alex's perspectives, and then wrap it up with short, focussed parts focussing on the family unit. I knew roughly how the relationships would have resolved by its end, but many of the details were vague.

I was comfortable with this approach, as I knew from my last couple of novels that my characters usually tell me what's going to happen as soon as they spring to life. I'm pleased to report that this is exactly what happened. To be honest, I'm surprised how clear things have become at this stage. Once I split the original final part 4 into two more focused parts 4 and 5, everything clicked into place. I even roughly know my last paragraph as Chris signs off the novel. There's just the small matter of writing it now.

To clear my brain for the challenge ahead, I've put a bit more structure on all the remaining parts. Part 4 was really easy to break down, and part 5 flowed naturally from that. Then it was just a matter of filling the gaps in the story between Lisa and Alex, and there was a natural fit for that too. It all slotted together worryingly well, which makes me think I've forgotten something! This is the planned chapter structure below, which doesn't really contain any spoilers, other than it would appear that my main characters might still be alive at the end – which is unusual for me, admittedly.

I'm sure it won't end up like that, and I'll end up splitting or joining chapters, and definitely renaming some, but it gives me a lot of confidence I'm on the right track. Given the purpose of each chapter – I always have a purpose for a chapter before setting out – I put a rough target word count for each, which gave me an expected overall word count for the first draft of around 78,000 words. We'll see.

Finally, at the top of this post, you can see my latest draft cover for the novel, assuming I self-publish the beast. I will see if I can get an agent interested first, but the act of creating the cover helped my mental process when things were going slow, and sets me in good stead if I do self-publish this one again. The cover still needs a few tweaks, but it's getting there.

Credit where it's due: the head at the centre of my cover is based upon a black-and-white original by Gordon Johnson made freely available for general use on Pixabay. I've obviously applied a few tweaks to it, but my graphical skills would never have been up to creating something so elegant in the first place. Thanks, Gordon!

Right, time to go and write the second half of the novel.

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