One novel into my book trilogy (and writing the next), I want to take the opportunity to forget about book marketing and rewind back to the beginning and talk about 'process'. Although slightly chaotic in my approach, there is [eventually] method in my madness.
Rewind — three years
I had just endured the most rewarding yet frustrating four and half years of my life and finished my doctoral thesis. I thought to myself, if I can finish that, I am clearly ready to write a novel. I had been thinking about writing my book for a while. With a keen interest in psychology and criminology as well as a fascination for serial killers (and my obsession with Dexter Morgan), the seed for the first book in The Revenge Trilogy — Out Of The Dark — started to grow.
I turn my attention back to the moment that I wrote the first words of my novel on a blank word document:
"Come. Come here. Come closer. Let me whisper in your ear. Let me tell you my secrets and take you on a journey that will chill your very soul. My story may fascinate you or it might disgust you, but only you can decide. My name is Jayden Edward Scott; a killer with no remorse, no guilt and no fear of retribution. At thirty years old, I am a self-made millionaire; businessman, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist with copious amounts of money to spend on a lavish lifestyle..."
The first person narration was already established without even thinking about it. I know that most novels are written in the third person past, but for me, it makes sense to write in the first person. I truly want to take the reader on a journey into the life and mind of a serial killer and this is the best way to achieve it — first person present/first person past.
Having said that, I still mixed up my tenses when I first started to write. I used flashbacks to narrate the early years of my character's life and wrote this in the present tense (when it should have been written in the past tense i.e my character is thirty years old looking back on his early life). It took a while to establish the tenses and flip between the past, present and future (I also use flashforwards in places, especially in the second book). I remember crying out for help in the early stages. I know a work colleague who teaches creative writing and she said: "it has potential," but she quickly dumped me because of my needy nature. So, I turned to tutorials on the internet on creative writing to start me off, especially for punctuation related to dialogue. I also looked at other books (but it's amazing how much you miss when you don't know what you are looking for!!). I quickly realised that creative writing is very different from academic writing and never thought it would take me three years to write/edit the first book!!
I know it is simple advice, but make sure your storyline links together. The plot needs to develop in some logical manner or the reader becomes confused. At the start of my story, the main character is thirty years old. Therefore, his story evolves around this time frame. Anything before is his past and anything after is his future and anything here and now is the present. Once you establish time frames, it is much easier to write.
At the outset, I decided to split the book into ten chapters. Personally, I hate books where there are something like thirty or forty chapters!! Each of the ten chapters has at least three section breaks:
Each chapter is about 10,000 words long, so the section breaks are crucial, otherwise, it seems to go on forever!! Personally, I am quite chaotic when it comes to planning, but out of this chaos comes structure. I tend to write three or four lines to outline the plot in each section (that's all) and let my imagination take over! And, it allows me to plan the plot around these sections i.e. three scenes per chapter, usually building up towards the climax in each chapter which in turn, sets the scene for the cliffhanger ending in Chapter 10.
Context is really important in my novel. And let's face it, I have three books in which to span out my story. Therefore, the setting is important. My book has a very distinctive Scottish/British flavour; rural coastal villages, Edinburgh, Forth Road Bridge, Glencoe, London, River Thames, Westminster and so on. My character is also a Black Bottle Whisky drinker, drives a Noble M600 car and smokes Dunhill cigarettes. He is a sophisticated yet delusional serial killer and everything about him is charming yet manipulative, devious and dark. To gain access to his mind, the first person narrative is appropriate and the use of italic writing (his thoughts) is an added bonus (which is not appropriate for the third person narration). If written in the third person, then how can the storyteller know what the character is thinking?
I enjoyed this aspect of the storyline/plot — creating the characters. It scares me slightly that I am very comfortable writing from my character's point of view considering he is a serial killer!! As the main narrator; his life, thoughts, habits, modus operandi, love interests, and devious mindset is exciting to write. However, I flip between multiple narrators and each has their own story to tell. It is challenging, to say the least. I, me, Marshall Hughes, tells each interweaving storyline from that character's point of view — Jayden Edward Scott (Serial Killer), Inspector Nicholas Canmore (Policeman), Kristina Cooper (Criminologist), Charles McIntyre (Reverend), Raymond Cartwright (Trafficker) and whoever else appears in the second and third book. I ended up consulting with a friend who works for Police Scotland, taking a keen interest in criminology (especially Professor David Wilson) and consulting articles/journal papers on the behavioural traits of serial killers. I know that there are some extremely EVIL killers, but try to keep my character as 'likeable' as possible!!
I did have in my mind a plot, up until Chapter 5, at least. After that, the storyline came together from rough plans and my imagination as well as linking events together in a logical manner. What I did have to watch is when I changed narrators, not to leave it too long into the chapter before making this obvious to the reader. My character also has a ritual related to his killings — tokenistic keepsakes from his victims, fine dining, and sex. I did get carried away with the sex scenes so had to cut this out in many places. However, this is a vital part of his modus operandi and now, the reader should know this for the second book.
I have written about this in my previous articles. The book was a pleasure to write, the editing was HORRENDOUS!! For my second book, I am already taking measures to edit as I write. I tend to write a scene then read over it again and add layers of depth/description until I feel like I have captured that scene to the best of my ability. I have also downloaded Grammarly and will purchase the premium package when the time is right. I have a zero budget to pay for proofreading or copy editing services so better just get on with it!!
If you are a first-time author (like me), I hope this helps in some kind of way. I am also learning, each and every day.
If you want to read my previous articles, please connect to me on Scriggler.
Copyright: Marshall Hughes
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