After the temporary hiccup mentioned in my penultimate post, the fourth draft of Stolen Lives is now firmly back on track. I went through the whole manuscript over the weekend and found to my surprise that, despite my having taken a month off, close to 12,000 words had been added to the book. This probably occurred during late night literary doodling sessions, which is why I don’t really remember writing them. Thank the Lord for insomnia.
But let’s go back to that month off for a moment. It now occurs to me that I actually suffered a dose of the dreaded WB (writer’s block). It’s interesting how this can sneak up on you. I always imagined WB as a complete absence of ideas, a creative brick wall against which a writer crashed, but it seems to be more complex. In my case, it was a loss of confidence which stopped me from working.
But when I look back, I have also experienced WB due to an excess of ideas. I spent most of my twenties and thirties dreaming of putting pen to paper, but never bothered as I could never decide what I wanted to write: I liked to read every damned genre there was going, so it was impossible to decide where to dedicate my efforts – the net result being that I failed to dedicate any effort whatsoever.
Anyway, I seem to have moved beyond the problem now. The Ratlings are back with their mother after the Easter break, so I have had the chance to really concentrate for a long period of time in the way I most like to work (which is sitting in bed listening to San Francisco Acid Rock with the curtains drawn).
During the last four days I have spent a lot of time on the back story. A lot of the drama in Stolen Lives occurs because of events that happened during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship, so I found it necessary to create a detailed timeline for each of the characters, pinpointing exactly what happened when and to whom. I feel quite confident about inventing this back story as I spent a lot of time during the 13 years I lived in Spain speaking to people who had lived through the dictatorship, and therefore heard quite a wide variety of opinions, from those who had suffered persecution to those who consider the dictatorship the best thing that ever happened to Spain.
A large part of my writing process consists of posing questions to myself about the plot then finding logical answers to them, and once I’d really nailed down the precise details of the back story, I found a number of new scenes suggested themselves to me, so I spent some time working on these scenes and in the process wrote another 5,000 words.
I am now approaching the point where I can really start finalising the draft. This is the bit where all the months of work really pay off, when you can actually read whole sections of the book. However, before I do this, there is one last thing I need to do.
I try to avoid exposition wherever possible (by which I mean those sections of prose where a writer stops and includes something that doesn’t actually move the story forward, but is necessary to allow the reader to understand what is going on) but in a book based on such a complex subject as the after effects of the Spanish Civil War, a little of this is unavoidable. I am now trying to winnow out any excessively large chunks of exposition, though – if I am forced to exposit, I want the results to slip effortlessly past the reader’s eyes rather than forming the literary equivalent of a fatberg.