I’ve mentioned that I’m rewriting The Quiet Ones, and while I’ve tended to move away from posts that are directly about what I’m writing, because spoilers, I thought today I’d talk about how the editing process is going, since this novel has taken an interesting journey. And there will also be brief excerpts to demonstrate the wonderful fashion sense of my characters.
Seriously, I wish I had half as much style as these guys. Total dorks the lot of them, but it’s great fun.
Firstly, though, I thought I’d tell you what this novel actually is. Short answer: a YA action/adventure novel about modern-day knights with a lot of sarcasm and jokes I’m pretty sure nobody will get. Long answer, this:
Ani is at the University of Aberdeen to get a degree, get a job, and get out of London – not to join a secret society of anarchist-fighting knights. But her close friendship with ‘Blue Knights’ David and Peter, not to mention their intimidating and beautiful leader Kay, draws the attention of another, more sinister group.
Anarchic, violent and political, the Grey Knights have none of the morals that govern the Blues. Their attack leaves Ani’s friends seriously wounded and forces her to learn to defend herself. Before long, these lessons and her developing relationship with Kay will draw her deeper into the heart of the Blue Knights.
It seems, however, that the Grey Knights are interested in Ani for a reason … and the search to uncover it might just lead her home again.
I may refine and rewrite that blurb, which is from the super-rough query I sketched out the other day, but it’s good enough to explain the concept to you all. Hooray!
The concept for The Quiet Ones was first explored in a story I posted on the website Protagonize in the summer of 2011, though it wasn’t very good. My sister read these opening chapters and … well, shredded them. Nicely, giving me advice to make them better, but I wasn’t very good at taking constructive criticism at that stage, so it was a little disheartening.
In November 2011 I took her comments and started rewriting that opening, and the first draft of the novel was written for NaNoWriMo. It was very short, around sixty thousand words, and not very good. In hindsight, my main mistake was assuming / believing that all my characters were straight, which meant the Ani/Kay relationship didn’t happen, and that made it way less interesting.
The rough draft also didn’t have a particularly strong plot, and needless to say it wasn’t brilliantly written, because I was fifteen and still refining my writing craft. Not that I’m not refining it any more. Just that I’ve done a lot more refining in the last two years. However, the draft allowed me to get my ideas on paper.
Over the next year or so, I thought through what I wanted to change and worked out where the book was set, placing it securely in Aberdeen rather than an unnamed Northern city university. While researching the uni, I discovered that they had some courses that actually interested me personally, and so the logical step to take was to go and visit it.
In April 2013 I spent three days in Aberdeen, ostensibly to visit the university but also to research the novel, and almost immediately after that trip I started writing the second draft. Nobody had read the first one, so I hadn’t had any feedback, but things started changing as soon as Ani turned out to be interested in Kay. I also sent early chapters of this draft to my beta reader and NaNo buddy Karl, who told me they skipped too much out and told me to fill in the gaps, which I did.
The second draft was around 75k, making it a more respectable length, and also infinitely better than the first. I was actually pretty convinced that this was it and I’d done the impossible: written a second draft that was good. Except that’s never the end of the story, is it?
This time I had readers. I sent it to Karl, Engie from ‘Musings From Neville’s Navel’ (you’ve all seen her commenting here), and my sister.
The first to respond was my sister, who told me it was “so much better than the last one”, referring to the sixth draft of Watching that she’d read while back, and a “vast improvement in a short amount of time”. She did, however, highlight areas for improvement, bothered by the relationship between Ani and Kay which came across as borderline unhealthy, and she gave me tips to improve the realism of the university setting.
Engie loved the book, which was gratifying, and demanded a sequel, which was unexpected. She, too, had a few ideas for things that needed work, though most of her comments were asking me to explain what I meant by certain Britishisms.
Karl (eventually) finished it, and he too had a few comments. He thought my antagonist wasn’t strong enough, and was introduced far too late in the story. When I brought up my sister’s comments, he said he could see that, though it hadn’t been what stood out. He also thought the opening needed improvement, again, because it’s the weakest part of the book.
So I had three perspectives to attack the book from, and what I did was sit down and think for a fortnight, sending them ideas via Facebook and asking if they were feasible, scrawling brainwaves across the whiteboard on my wall or on pieces of paper on my desk. Eventually, I had an idea of how I wanted the book to go ahead.
Then, in mid-December, I took the approach I always take with a rewrite: I opened a document, had the old version open in front of me, and started again from the beginning, integrating old sentences and dialogue in new material and improving what I was keeping. Sometimes this is a straightforward process, but at other times, when I’m reordering scenes and introducing new characters, it’s not.
I haven’t finished the third draft yet, but I’ve made a few observations already:
- Everybody is queer in this novel.
Okay, not everyone, but it’s definitely the majority. They come from all over the spectrum, and while in many cases it didn’t come up as an opportunity in the narrative so it’s technically ‘unconfirmed’, I have plenty of ideas about all of them. I even made a joke that it should be renamed The Queer Ones.
- This draft has a lot more characters.
Previously, though I referred to a number of Knights other than the central characters of Ani, David, Peter and Kay, they didn’t greatly impact the story, and many of them were simply names and faces without a great deal of personality. The introduction of flatmates for Kay allowed me to develop characters outside of the society to which the others belong, and Ani’s sister (previously referenced but never seen ‘on-screen’) takes a slightly more prominent role. There are generally more minor characters, too, and people who only had one scene in the previous draft are more integral to the storyline.
- It’s perfectly okay to have a character from another of your novels cameo in this one.
No one is going to notice that Sean’s in it, because he’s in Death and Fairies book eight, and therefore won’t be introduced until ten years after The Quiet Ones is published or whatever. Except now I’ve told you, so you will. The fact is, I needed a character to fulfil a very particular role, and he was ideally suited, so I saved myself the effort of creating a new one.
- This draft is a lot longer than the previous ones.
It’s not entirely accurate because some scenes have been reordered, but the last sentence I wrote comes 46,000 words into the second draft. By contrast, the third draft is presently 70,000 words long, suggesting I’ve gained about 24k. Which I have. A lot of things happened and of course, introducing the antagonist earlier meant they were developed at a far earlier point.
- There could easily be a sequel to this novel.
But I’m not going to write one. Not yet, at any rate; I’m certainly querying it as a standalone, because it works fine as one, and I’ve got so many other things I want to write first.
- It’s okay to spend a long time writing something.
For me, writing the same novel for nearly two months is almost unthinkable. But I know this draft will be better for it. A lot of what has changed has been the result of thinking hard about it, and carefully altering the direction it’s taking to introduce these new plot points.
- I’m still not 100% sure how this novel is going to resolve, but I’m trusting I’ll get there.
I always do. Though I know the final scene will be fairly much the same as the previous draft’s ending, it’s how we get there that’s going to change.
- If your characters are students, remember that when describing their clothing.
I never describe my characters, really. Not until this draft, when it suddenly occurred to me that what they wear could be really great indicator of their personality. And because they’re students, their fashion sense is more based around comfort, practicality, and what’s been washed in the last month. It leads to fun moments, and I’ve scattered some of them around this post.
- Don’t worry whether anybody else gets the jokes.
There are too many French Revolution jokes in this (Camille and Lucile suffer them a great deal), and many of them probably only appeal to people with the same interests and knowledge as me. But I find them hilarious, and it makes it fun for me to write.
- Funny books are fun, but it’s still possible to include angst.
This is not a tragedy, but I still managed to include some ouch-worthy moments. I defined the difference between TQO and Death and Fairies like this: “One’s angst and pain with occasional sarcasm and humour, and one’s sarcasm and humour with occasional angst and pain.” So I guess choose the balance that appeals to you.
I’m really excited about this novel’s future, and I hope I’ve managed to interest you in it, too! In the meantime, I need to finish writing it. That may have to wait a few days, though… I have two essays to write and a sonatina to compose, and it would be nice if I could pass my A-Levels.
I’ll leave you with Sean’s description, so that you can keep an eye out for him as and when you ever have the opportunity to read this or Death and Fairies ;)
Entertain me while I work with your comments: which character’s fashion sense do you most admire, or which is closest to your own? If you’re a writer, do any of your characters dress in a particularly distinctive manner? Feel free to share a description in the comments :)