Welcome to the #AKnightsReads stop on the #blogblitz for Tony J Forder’s third DI Bliss novel If Fear Wins. I’ve got a very insightful guest post from the man himself which might give you budding writers out there some food for thought!
Big thank you to the wonderful Sarah Hardy for inviting me on the #BlogBlitz. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about If Fear Wins.
When a torched body is found in a country lane, DI Bliss and Chandler are called in to investigate.
The detectives are drawn towards recent missing person reports, and believe their victim will prove to be one of them. Bliss thinks he knows which, and fears the outcome if he is proven right.
Soon the body is identified, and Bliss and Chandler discover evidence suggesting this murder might be a terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, someone from Bliss’s past needs his help, and soon he is juggling his personal life with the demanding case. To make matters more complicated, MI5 and the Counter-Terrorist Unit are called in to help solve the case. But are they on the right track?
Bliss and Chandler soon find themselves in a race against time, and this might just be their most challenging case yet…
Guest Post – The Writing Process
A year is a long time, but when you get to my age those 365 days seem to slip through your fingers like grains of sand. A year ago I was basking in the unexpected popularity of my first published novel, Bad to the Bone, and wondering if it would ever get better than that. Well, it did, and there is still room for improvement, but my writing world has changed beyond all recognition. Including the way I go about it.
If I focus on my latest book, If Fear Wins, the process is still very clear in my mind. My writing day starts around 8.00am. I check my mail and my social media just in case there is something I need or want to address, and then I get stuck into my latest work in progress. I tend to write chapters in the order in which I want to tell the story, but I also keep notes and type them up in a file I call ‘scraps’. These scraps can be anything from a few lines to a few pages in length, and I will feed them into the relevant part of the story as I go along. At the end of each chapter, which I save as an individual file, I hand write chapter notes in a lined book which plots the progression of my WIP. In these notes I will include names of characters and a rough idea of what was covered – 2-3 lines at most – in addition to relevant dates/days/times and even weather conditions, so that the timeline is easily checked with a glance. I also list the characters on a whiteboard which sits behind my laptop, so again the names are available to me just by glancing up.
Without initially realising it, I have come to understand that my writing ‘habit’ is actually a fully-fledged ‘process’ and I seem unable to deviate from it. It goes something like this: in the early stages I will revisit chapters the day after writing them just to tidy them up and get a feel for the storyline, characters, timeline, setting, and pace. If they require obvious editorial I will address that, but otherwise what I’m looking for is to get a sense of the work as it progresses. At some point, which is when I have a genuine grasp of the different components in my head, I will revisit the previous chapter briefly for a quick scan before moving on to make sure nothing obvious leaps out at me – such as having a character appear after previously bumping them off – but I will do little or no editing. The final third of this process – and often this turns out to coincide with the final third of the book – sees me writing as if there is no turning back. It’s not so much that I want to get the end out of my head and onto the page, nor that I am desperate for it to be over, more that I want to maintain a steady flow of words for such a critical stage of the book.
So by the time I have typed THE END, the book is a bit of a Curate’s egg. There’s about a third which holds up quite well, a further third which has all of the necessary components but which still throws up issues, and a final third which really is a bit of a mess. But that’s fine, because that’s what the edit stage is for, and why there is absolutely no ‘Send’ button visible to me when using Word. This very first draft is not something I want anyone else to see.
The first edit has a specific role: to ensure it all makes sense, and if it doesn’t, to correct it. If some things need restructuring in terms of timeline or setting, if some placeholders – I use square brackets – need replacing with researched information, if notes saying [dialogue here] require dialogue entering right there, then that’s what that first edit needs to achieve. This is also the time for me to write up a fresh set of hand-written notes for each chapter. Okay, so I confess that I am a little CDO (and yes, that is OCD in alphabetical order) so I don’t like to have corrections scribbled in my hand-written notes, I need them to be clean on the page. However, by the time the first edit is complete, I have a book that follows a structure, where the timeline works, and the pieces of the puzzle have at least formed the outer edges of the whole picture.
Then I leave it alone. Or, this is perhaps better described as me reaching the point at which I attempt to leave it alone. I try to let it cook in its own juices for a couple of weeks, but I am a self-confessed manuscript tweaker, and I find it almost impossible not to at least dabble. I will force myself to move onto something new because if I had nothing to write then I would not be able to let the other piece sit all alone feeling unloved and untouched. It’s the only way I can manage to approach that second edit with a relatively fresh eye. Also, this is now the point where all those individual chapters get inserted into a single file to become the manuscript.
The second edit is the period which I think of as adding muscle and flesh to the bare bones of the story. It’s the point at which I try to describe characters and scenes more fully, not to pad but to round out, striving for that extra dimension. I also focus on dialogue, and responses. When I reach the end of each chapter, I go back and read it through to make sure that it holds up okay in terms of structure and moving the story along. I regard this as the second most dangerous edit, because this is where I find myself being led by the things I allow my characters to do or say. In Scream Blue Murder, for instance, I had two villains called Rhino and Haystacks, and I enjoyed writing them so much I created whole new scenes just for them. Of course, that meant shifting around the entire story and timeline, but that was where my second edit took me and I listen to my instincts. So it can be dangerous, but it can also be extremely fulfilling. It’s not unknown for my second edit to add 20,000 words to the overall count.
Edit three requires pruning shears. Not everything works. Not every character makes the final cut. Not every path less travelled is worth taking. It’s known as ‘killing your darlings’ and believe me it can really hurt. But even if you are overjoyed at how a particular piece of writing turned out, if it doesn’t work in the context of the book as a whole, if it slows down the pace or starts to approach pontificating, then it has to go. Sometimes it gets reduced, sometimes it is erased in its entirety. This stage can see you lose half of what the previous stage added – in terms of word count, not specific scenes.
Edit four is extremely subjective. I tend to use it as a read-through during which, if I choose, I can polish up the odd sentence, paragraph, scene, or piece of dialogue. This, for me, is the most dangerous edit of them all, because it’s far too easy to edit your way out of something good. Sure, you can hone, you can fret and fuss over whether something requires a colon, semi-colon, possibly be broken down into separate sentences, but it’s far too easy to wield those pruning shears like a chainsaw and cause your finest piece of prose to read more like the inane ramblings of a mad person. Sometimes less really is more.
With If Fear Wins I did something I had not done before: I sent it to my publisher whilst still uncertain if it worked. I felt that I was taking the fourth edit too far and was in danger of ruining it. So I sent it off fearing the worst, only to receive a thumbs up with no request for changes. Not only that, but it was at this point that they offered me a three book deal. Spurred on by the knowledge that I had secured a deal, I asked for it back in order to make one final run at it. By this time I had accepted that I needed a new final edit routine, and so I sent it to my new Kindle (I had never used an e-reader before) and read it through that way. It was like opening the door to a whole new world, because the simple act of reading my work through a different medium allowed me to spot typos and some things in need of rephrasing.
Hitting that final ‘send’ was, as it has been every single time so far, completely nerve-racking. But you have to let them go eventually, and I must admit that I felt some relief when it was gone. I felt I was taking a bit of a chance with this one by deliberately making it less visceral, but in terms of plot development and structure I think of it now as probably my most mature offering so far.
I’m not sure how other authors go about their work, but hopefully I’ve given you an insight as to the procedure I went through for this book. I also hope that, if you get around to reading it, you’ll think it was all worthwhile.
Tony J Forder
So there we have it, that’s how Tony gets his book from idea to publisher! Thanks Tony for sharing your writing process with us! Readers, don’t forget to catch the other fabulous stops on the #blogblitz!
Who Is Tony J Forder?
Tony J Forder is the author of the critically acclaimed crime thriller series featuring detectives Jimmy Bliss and Penny Chandler. The first two books, Bad to the Bone and The Scent of Guilt, will be joined in the series on 29 May 2018 by If Fear Wins.
Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books. This was intended to be a stand-alone novel, but Tony is now considering the possibility of a follow-up.
One book that will definitely see a sequel is Scream Blue Murder. This was published in November 2017, and received praise from many, including fellow authors Mason Cross, Matt Hilton and Anita Waller.
Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TonyJForder @TonyJForder
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/tony+j+forder?_requestid=248936
Bloodhound Books: http://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/tony-forder