Monkey See: Journey to a Book (Part 1) – Completing a First Draft

I recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel Monkey See, which I have been writing, on and off, for a year and a half. It is such an exciting moment to come to the end of a novel. The feeling that I only had one scene to write lasted almost a week. It kept turning out that there was just one more scene to write! But eventually I got there. 75,000 words. 200 pages. And a story I am feeling really confident about.

Planning

Monkey See is the first novel I have written using a plan. It is, I should point out, an extremely loose plan – essentially a table containing 8 key plot points. But I really felt that it helped to guide me. I have written this book more quickly than any book in the past. And I haven’t suffered from writer’s block at any point which is also a first for me. I’m sure having a plan played a role in this – I always felt I knew what direction I needed to steer in.

Having a plan felt more important than usual because Monkey See is the first book in a trilogy and it scared the bejeesus out of me to imagine pantsing my way through a three-book series. I might have gone completely in the wrong direction (which happened while writing my third novel, The Ark) and it would have been a long and wearying journey back to the straight and narrow.

Feedback

However, I have had some guard rails in place to keep me from veering too wildly off course. I speak, of course, of my brilliant writing critique group: Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Yvette Walker, Dawn Barker and Sara Foster. We meet around once a month to read each other’s work and it is an invaluable process. Each person brings something different to the table, but combining their skills is like having access to a writing superhero! Amanda has an ear for language, tuned by twenty years of editing experience, Yvette is attuned to emotional undercurrents, Sara notices discrepancies and gaps in logic. Natasha has an instinct for pacing and Dawn has a knack for suspense, plus with her psychiatric background frequently plays the role of medical consultant! As well as helping me to improve my writing through their technical feedback, these amazing women have been unfailingly supportive and encouraging throughout the writing process and their enthusiasm for the story has spurred me on.

Let Her Go Launch
L-R: Amanda Curtin, Sara Foster, Dawn Barker, Annabel Smith & Natasha Lester at the launch of Dawn Barker’s Let Her Go

Next Steps

I’m now in the process of editing the novel, weeding out the words I overuse, tying up loose ends and tightening it up in every conceivable way. I’ll check back in to let you know how the process is going. Wish me luck!

18 thoughts on “Monkey See: Journey to a Book (Part 1) – Completing a First Draft

  1. Congratulations, Annabel! Great to hear that having a plan has helped. I suspect it would be nigh impossible to write a trilogy without one. You’ve done especially well because you have a family and are working and publicising another couple of books and … and …

    I’m already making a plan for novel #2—it’s very loose, I must say, as I don’t tend to think up original ideas until I’m actually writing the scene, but I’m a bit like you and need help keeping on the straight and narrow.

    Oh, and your writing group are not just talented writers, but good-looking too!

    1. They do look like a bevy of beauties in this photo, don’t they?

      I’ve learned to put the writing before publicity etc – not before family of course!

  2. Congratulations, that is an amazing achievement. I have A New Map of the Universe sitting on my bedside reading table, waiting for a gap in my reading schedule and then I will be moving on to The Ark some time later this year. You are very talented and I intend to read all of your work over time…

  3. Congrats on finishing the book, Annabel. Such a wonderful achievement. And we are so lucky to have our writing group – it really is a great mix of perspectives and ideas and encouragement and support. Here’s hoping we’ll still be meeting long into the future!

  4. Great photo, Annabel! I’m intrigued by the 8 plot points. I’ve also done lots of reading over the last two years about’story engineering’ – went back and made sure my coming novel had the story points in the right place, and now am going back to my first manuscript, to make sure that while I’m rewriting it, it also has everything in the right place. But I only know about 6 or 7… Hook, inciting incident, two pinch points, and three turning points (1st, mid and 2nd) so care to share?

    Looking forward to Monkey See!

    And again I have to say I’m envious of you that you have such a power-group of writers to work with.

    1. The 8 point arc comes from ‘dramatica theory’ The 8 points are: stasis, trigger, quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, resolution. I like the sound of yours better actually – where did you read about that?

      1. It’s from Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and it’s fantastic. Revolutionised the way I think about writing fiction/novels. It’s not formulaic and it’s really helpful. You can apply to any kind of novel style. Before I was organic and stumbling blind, managing but not hitting strong points that make a novel compelling, whether literary fiction or genre or whatever. Now, I still keep the organic bit and stumble blind a bit, but then massage everything into this shape afterwards (did that for two mss) and then for a third, wrote it with his points in mind, made for an easier completion of draft one I have to say. Also worth checking out is a PDF that’s online, called Syd Field’s Screenplay. (I had linked to it from my blog but I see the link is broken, you might have to google around). It was a lightbulb moment for me, also well worth reading for the principles, which are the same as Brooks’s – he prob got them from Fields. Fields seems like an early teacher of them.

        I also blogged about Brooks here: http://jennyackland.com/2013/01/29/first-plot-point-mid-point-second-plot-point-etc/

        My next ms I am going to get the story points clear in my head first and then get writing, filling in the gaps. It will be an interesting challenge!

  5. Congratulations on finishing! I really look forward to reading your next book. Having read your first three novels I must say I am not sure what to expect as each is quite different…in a good way.

  6. Wonderful achievement, Annabel. I’ve been admired your speed getting through this draft and am happy to hear you’ve hit your target. Is this your first trilogy? Did you plot out the remaining 2 books as well before starting? Also, I must say the shout-out to your writing group and the accompanying photo fills me with such joy. I think it’s incredible how much talent there is in your little group and it’s truly inspiring to see women writers supporting each other in such a successful fashion. Well done to all of you!

    1. Hi Nicole. I seem to have missed this comment, so sorry. This is my first trilogy. I didn’t plot out the remaining two books but I know what has to happen by the end of the third. And I have a loose idea of what might be the main plot points in each. I really am very lucky to be part of such a lovely supportive group of writers. It’s great to have compadres to share the journey with.

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