Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Week Thirty-Six: Blogging A Novel Live

So Nanowrimo has finished for another year, and some people will have novels to edit, others will still be finishing, some may even have published their Nano novels already and be promoting them.

I am still finishing my Nanowrimo project, which is an ongoing thriller. Now about 10K words shy of the finishing line, plus edits and checks.

Hopefully that means it will be all ready for my agent to see in another week or so, since I'm the sort who sweeps assiduously behind me as I go along, making post-novel edits a fairly short and painless process. (Until editorial suggestions come in, that is!)

Meanwhile, I have also been doing something very new and a little scary.

DUNE, by Frank Herbert. A superb science fiction novel that was deeply influential on me as a young writer ... and also happens to feature tons of sand. Just like, ahem, Chapter One of my own first sci fi novel, THE CELL.

For the past six weeks, I have been 'blogging a novel'.

Basically, this means publishing one segment per week at roughly the same time. And because I only had just over two thousand words written when I started, it also means I've been writing it on the hoof and publishing straightaway.

An alarming prospect for a perfectionist like me!

You can find the blog here. The working title for this novel is, THE CELL. And it is clearly now a science fiction novel.

I wasn't sure at the outset if it would be science fiction. I knew it would be experimental in some way. But it's now clearly sci fi.

The first few thousand words of THE CELL are based on an uber-short story of the same name that I wrote for a 2012 Salt Publishing anthology called Stories To Read Aloud.

It's basically a character piece that I massively enjoyed writing, and I wanted to give that very rich character her own novel-length story. But I couldn't continue in the same vein for a whole novel, or didn't want to, as it was set in the world of a third century female Christian hermit living alone for years in the Egyptian desert!

The only way I could think of to turn her story into a likely commercial novel was to have a present-day character narrating alongside her with some link to the past. Slipstream, in other words. Maybe a researcher or a modern-day hermit of some kind. Which was an interesting idea, but not a story I felt compelled to tell. Hence not moving forward with that.

So five years down the line of turning this issue over in my head, I went to a talk by Catherine Fox at the RNA Conference, who discussed blogging her novels online, and how the whole process worked.

So I decided to do it myself the same way, and have started to blog the novel in weekly instalments, hoping this would force me to make a decision. And of course it did. By the third instalment, I knew what I wanted to do, and that was to write a science fiction novel. Which was, of course, startlingly different from my opening with a desert hermit ...

But I hope I've managed to make this shift in a convincing and gripping way. You decide!

Read Chapter One here.

What is it they say ... ? When in doubt, have someone walk through the door with a gun. In this case (hurriedly checks genre of novel), a ray-gun.

As far as blogging a novel goes, it's an odd situation. I am trying to publish each new 1-2 thousand word segment, which I'm loosely calling a chapter, at the weekend. So far on a Saturday morning, but that's likely to change as the weeks go on, and I get more stressed or stuck etc.

Catherine Fox said she felt two thousand words was a good length for a post, but I wasn't sure I could commit to two thousand words a week, every week, for over a year, when I have so many other books on the go. So I have opted for one thousand minimum. (Though one chapter so far has been over twice that amount, so it's pretty variable.)

Late in the week, I start thinking about what I'm going to write, and usually sit down to write the 'chapter' on a Thursday or Friday. I have to check back first, and again during the writing, to ensure good continuity in terms of tone as well as action. I try to begin and end each 'chapter' in a suitably gripping manner, to compel readers to continue reading or - if they're new to the story - to want to glance back at earlier chapters and find out what else has happened. At the moment I have two very different narrators, but may include other voices, I'm not sure.

And not being sure what's ahead is part of the fun, and the experience, of blogging a novel once a week, from scratch. When you publish a novel, it's usually been written, edited, checked, thought about almost to death, before the reader even sees the cover. When you blog a novel live, while it's still being written, everything about the usually hidden and mysterious process of constructing a novel becomes transparent and makeshift, even a little rough around the edges.

There may be changes made further down the line. Mistakes, perhaps! Wrong turns and glaring errors. I don't know.

Good grief, I have NO IDEA what happens next ... and this instalment is due out in two hours!

Of course, you could blog a novel that's already completed. But I'm not sure what the point would be. For me, this is a relatively painless way of getting a novel written that might otherwise never be given the time. And making it public like this also ensures I'm more likely to continue, as it could prove embarrassing if I give up and stop halfway.

To recap, blogging a novel as you write it is an interesting thing to do if you can spare a few hours a week, and have a project that's unlikely to be commercial. Because, let's face it, you should probably save commercial projects for selling to a publishing house or self-publishing when complete.  

The Cell is non-commercial at the moment, and an added bonus is that it may save me from the weight of current workloads by providing an escape once a week into this other, slightly crazy fictional world. And although I anticipate taking a good year, maybe a year and a half, to complete the full novel, it's worth the attempt, if only to see how long I can stick at it.

So far, the biggest problems of blogging a novel are twofold.

One, getting back into the main novel I'm working on - a thriller, currently - after spending maybe half a day fiddling with a sci fi chapter.

And two, getting people to read it. I think last week's instalment has only been read by two people. Whoever you are, thank you.

So please, do read it, make me feel better ... Here's Chapter One again.

Early days yet, granted, but I'm open to comments under the blog, and even suggestions on the story or the process. Not saying I'll incorporate suggestions, but I might do! And it's part of the nature of blogging a novel that there's a faint whiff of collaboration with the unseen reader. You are making public what is still being written, and on the hoof too, in a journalistic manner, and so are open to influence, even if only subliminal.

Which is a fun concept!

The Cell: coming weekly to a blog near you over the next 12 months or so.

Please, read, comment, share ... join in!

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Many thanks, Jane Holland