I think I have learnt one thing in the process of writing three books, and that is you are going to be wrong most of the time. Not in a bad way, but with my ideas for book 4 beginning to circle, scenes twitching to life somewhere in the hind brain, I know what I think of the fixed points in my proto-plot will come loose, and a whole lot of things that will appear in the finished manuscript have not even begun to flicker in my head yet. That’s sort of exciting.
But anyway, here are a couple of things I’ve been very wrong about in the past:
1. I’ve written my first book, and got a two-book deal. I now know how to write novels. No. I knew how to write a novel, that novel, Instruments of Darkness. I then had to learn how to write Anatomy of Murder. Then I had to learn how to write the next one. I accept that now, but it came as a bit of a shock at first.
2. I’ve really, really worked through the plot and have a solid outline. When I write the book, these things will happen in the order I expected. No. Not at all. It helps having that outline, but characters develop a life of their own. Also, as you write you realise that perhaps not enough is happening, or too many scenes are the same shape and size, or what you thought of as the danger / peril element isn’t bothering your characters as much as you thought it would. Then you have to take another walk in your character’s skins and see what is really bothering them, or what might. For some reason, no matter how clearly you imagine things while you outline a lot of this only comes up when you start actually writing.
3. I’ve written two novels about Crowther and Westerman now. I really know them. Wrong again. They still surprise me, and what is even better, they change. Their relationship grows, or shows weakness. Their relations with those around them change. I put them through all sorts of hell in the books, and that changes them too. I think this is a very good thing. It means they are alive. We all change after all, so should they.
4. This is the bit of research I really need (i). OK, sometimes that is true, but just as often I find some crabbed scribble in the margin of my notes that opens up the possibility of a whole new scene. Then it’s back to the British Library.
5. This is the bit of research I really need (ii). Nope. Yes, perhaps it’s nice I know a great deal about archery competitions and societies in England in 1783, or the ten most likely dishes on the dinner table, or how tea was served, or the development of brewing from the 16th century until the pub as we know and love it now appeared, but if it is not significant for my characters at that moment in the novel, it wont go in. I just save it for boring people at parties and let the book run at the pace it should.
I am wrong about a lot of other stuff too, but that’s enough to be going on with.