As the weary first draft battle continues on, I’ve already learnt a few things about my new book that I’ll need to address when I’m finished…
Retrospect is a cruel thing. And overthinking is even crueller. They’re both my bedfellows at the moment. Especially when it comes to this new book, You Can Hear Chopin from the Attic. As I mentioned in previous posts, including my latest update, writing my new World War II thriller has been a labour of love. At one point I considered starting the whole thing from scratch, despite reaching the 100,000-word mark.
The key takeaway with any first draft is to just get it down on paper. Don’t look to please your beta readers or whoever you turn to for feedback. It’s highly unlikely they’re going to say it’s perfect. Your characters will be inconsistent, and your plots will have holes in them. However, it’s good to be mindful of these possible issues. Here are five from my own work-in-progress.
1. We may be following the wrong protagonist
I took you through my main characters in my new book more than once, so I won’t do it again. Least of all because the hierarchy might shift in the re-drafting process!
The main storyline in You Can Hear Chopin concerns Heinrich Oeunhausen, the owner of the hotel where most of the action takes place, and his wife Sofie. As a schizophrenia sufferer, Sofie would be considered ‘unworthy of life’, or words to that effect, under the Nazi regime. And so, to protect her, Heinrich conceals her existence from all but a few close allies, yet hides her in plain sight in his own hotel. He exploits the trust of his family friend Standartenführer Upfauer to keep the hotel’s Nazi clientele from throwing their weight around. In essence, keeping Sofie relatively safe.
However, the emotional and developmental journey I’m taking Heinrich on might not be that interesting or thrilling when told through his eyes. Like my other books, there’s more than one point-of-view character in You Can Hear Chopin. Heinrich and the other major protagonist Cordelia Knesebeck make up the bulk of them. But the one character that observes their actions and decisions the most is the concierge, Alois. A character I happen to enjoy writing a great deal. Not least because he serves as an outlet to satirise even present-day attitudes towards hospitality workers. He says and thinks all the things I would have loved to have said to customers in my hotel days! I have half a mind to rework the story and tell it all through Alois’ eyes, which will (hopefully) add more suspense and mystery. Undecided yet, but there’s a good chance I’ll give it a go.
2. This new book is too long
Can imagine looks of horror and astonishment when I say the plan for this new book is, currently, 73 pages long. That includes all the notes I made during my research, links to relevant articles and so on; a list of dishes that could potentially make up menus for the hotel, plus whatever cocktails and other drinks were available; extensive character bios, and, most notably, an in-depth treatment for plot and character for each of the 110 chapters.
Yes, you read that correctly. 110.
I have already decided that what I considered the final quarter of the novel can be cut. Not necessarily forever. It would comprise a courtroom drama, prison turmoil for certain characters, and missing crucial evidence with a ticking clock to find it. Arguably the most thrilling part of the book. But it’d take place two years after the main action. Half the major characters wouldn’t be involved. In my opinion, it would serve just as well as a potential sequel.
3. Repetition, repetition, repetition…
As we don’t change settings all that much in the course of the story, I often find myself repeating phrases and words. Even some that, when I first used them, seemed quite fresh and clever. There’ll be three questions I’ll ask myself when I do my editing and redrafting in these cases. A) Can I shift the action elsewhere, to a different setting? B) Can I touch on another storyline in between and break this up? Or C) Can some of these scenes in the same setting be condensed down into one?
Plus, I keep a trusty list of unusual or uncommon words in my phone that’s proven useful in the past. We’ll turn to that again in due course.
4. Some characters need more attention
I came into this new book with a very clear idea of which characters are major and which are minor. But over the course of writing, some have proven much nicer to write than others. And indeed others just haven’t featured as much in the story as they should. It’ll be one of the first things I make a note of in my re-drafting process. Where could we pick these characters’ threads up earlier or more often?
5. Some characters seem familiar
This one actually came from a follower off the back of another post. A truly invaluable bit of feedback. It was pointed out that the character of Heinrich seemed to bear similarities to another character from one of my other books! Namely, George Whitlocke, butler to Lady Vyrrington in Lust & Liberty and Sin & Secrecy. And while I can’t confirm or deny whether or not it’s correct yet, it definitely had me wondering. How many of my other You Can Hear Chopin characters have the same voices and personalities as the Berylford cast? Is Standartenführer Upfauer a National Socialist analogue for Abel Stirkwhistle? Could Mrs Urmstone have been reincarnated in Cordelia Knesebeck by accident?
I like to think I’ve created enough of a disparity between them. But at the same time, on paper, maybe there are dangerous similarities! It’s something I never thought to look at before. A cracking piece of feedback, and sincerest thanks go to that follower.
Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think. And if you want to know more about my new book, leave a comment or follow my Facebook and Instagram pages. And read further posts out more about this novel.