Writing ‘Red Star Falling’: Part Two

In this second part of excerpts from my writ­ing journ­al, which out­lines my thoughts while writ­ing Red Star Falling, I’m assem­bling the first draft and think­ing about the revi­sion pro­cess.

Saturday, 30th March

So the theme today is a some­what tech­nic­al. I’m try­ing to get myself out of plot knots that I’ve become ensnared in. For this story, I’ve giv­en myself a gen­er­al view of what goes on—a high-alti­tude ver­sion, if you will—and relied upon my unpar­alleled writer’s brain (sar­casm alert) to fig­ure out the fine details dur­ing the pro­cess of com­pos­i­tion. This is one way of doing it; it’s also a way of cre­at­ing pan­ic. That said, the pan­ic is prob­ably neces­sary. What it means is that I must solve prob­lems as I go along. It makes me focus much more. They aren’t really dif­fi­cult prob­lems, to be hon­est. They’re prob­lems like ‘Character A needs to do X because oth­er­wise things will be bor­ing; but why would Character A do that?’ and selling them to the read­er.

The theme of ‘selling’ is cer­tainly one that I keep com­ing back to. The story itself might be mundane, but it can give the impres­sion of being a crack­ing story if it is sold well. A magi­cian will have only a small staple of tricks—misdirections, etc.—but they can be sold as things like mind-read­ing and lev­it­a­tion. That’s why you can para­phrase a story like Hansel and Gretel and it sounds like a piece of crap. In selling it, in put­ting it togeth­er as a story that the read­er can almost exper­i­ence, almost touch, you cre­ate some­thing like fic­tion. So much of my ‘prob­lem solv­ing’ is really about doing up with solu­tions that the read­er will ‘buy’. Not to have the char­ac­ters be clev­er but seem clev­er. Much the same applies to the writer, I’d sug­gest.

Sunday, 31st March

The struggle con­tin­ues. Since I fin­ished the writ­ing ses­sion last night, I’m bugged by the little uni­verse in my head. The story has reached the point where sev­er­al inter­est­ing things have to hap­pen sim­ul­tan­eously. To be spe­cif­ic for a moment…


Last night in bed, and this morn­ing in bed, I’ve been think­ing over the mech­an­ics of what needs to hap­pen.

In my last ses­sion, I left Saskia…

As the Fonz says, redactamundo!

I did that accord­ing to Hemingway’s prin­ciple that one should always leave some­thing in the tank for the next ses­sion. That is, you should always be able to pick up where you left off.

But once I’ve writ­ten the next bit—which is fairly easy—I’ll then hit the murder-wall of the com­ing action scene, where all things come togeth­er. I know I’ve writ­ten good action scenes in the past, but it does, at moment, seem dif­fi­cult to scope out.

As ever, the best way of get­ting the thing done is to do it. Let’s rock. (Pun-tast­ic!)

Wednesday, 30th April

Well, I’ve fin­ished the first draft of the short story.

Came in at about 15,000 words.

The idea now is to let it mellow—but not too much! The first draft works, essen­tially, as a rough map of the final ter­rit­ory. It now needs to be fin­essed in a couple of ways. The first is a ‘devel­op­ment­al pass’. I’ll need to read through the thing in its entirety and check that there aren’t any major errors of geo­graphy, motiv­a­tion, and so on. Next, I’ll do a ‘research pass’, where I’ll ensure that visu­al descrip­tions, etc., are accur­ate. Finally, I’ll fin­ish the text itself; this will involve re-writ­ing the story from the ground up. I’ll prob­ably start with a blank doc­u­ment and have the ori­gin­al open to one side.

Developmental pass

This comes first. It’s about a high-level over­view. Here, I can change struc­ture to max­im­ise things like pace, clar­ity and parsimony—but how­ever it’s described, it means pro­du­cing a struc­ture that is the best way of telling the story. In a sense, when you change the struc­ture, you change the story, but there’s a dis­tinc­tion between plot and story. (There might be a tech­nic­al one; but I’m using my own dis­tinc­tion here.) The story is what the text is about; the plot is what hap­pens, and in what order. What is the story about? This is a ques­tion I don’t like to ask before­hand, because it stifles the cre­at­ive pro­cess. It’s import­ant for me that I don’t really know what it is about to start with. This needs to be dis­covered dur­ing the writ­ing. In the case of Red Star Falling, I guess the story is about a woman going…


Research pass

This is quite good fun, though there is a per­vas­ive anxi­ety that I’ll uncov­er a cru­cial detail that renders implaus­ible a key aspect of the story. What I need to do in this stage is identi­fy loc­a­tions, the weath­er, sound pat­terns, smells, fashion—anything spe­cif­ic to the situ­ation of the story that I’ll need to men­tion or imply. Red Star Falling is set in Switzerland in 1908. It begins in a mor­tu­ary and fin­ishes on the Eiger Nordwand, or ‘north face’. I’ve been look­ing up descrip­tions and pic­tures of Edwardian mor­tu­ar­ies and drop­ping them into an applic­a­tion called Evernote. I’m not sure how much of the detail I’ll need to use, but I want to have it at my fin­ger­tips.

It might be worth say­ing some­thing about the inter­ac­tion between the research pro­cess and the first draft. I’ve learned, over the years, that the story-based ele­ment is quite inde­pend­ent from the research-based ele­ment, even though they may appear to the read­er (and the ama­teur writer) to be tangled inex­tric­ably. The prob­lem for the writ­ing pro­cess is that you’ve already got a ton of stuff rolling around your head. Essentially, you are try­ing to sim­u­late an inde­pend­ent real­ity in your head. The less you need to think about research the bet­ter. If you write peri­pat­et­ic­ally, the flow of the story will suf­fer, and it will be very hard to write. It’s bet­ter just to crack on. So, these days, when I write (and this is true of the draft as it stands today), I’m writ­ing the let­ters TC (stand­ing for ‘To Come’) whenev­er I need to write some­thing that I would need to look up—time of dawn, name of a minor char­ac­ter, or street, and so on. This means that I can crash through and get the draft fin­ished. However, it’s not easy, because you’re well aware that what you’re pro­du­cing reads like a god­damn lub­berly mess. (It doesn’t help that prose is shot full of cliches, either, but you’ve also got to post­pone beauty to a later draft.)

Finalising the text

This will be lay­ing down a new bed of prose that is all-guns-blaz­ing, pos­sibly over­blown, and cer­tainly purple. It’s when I’ll start to think: What is the abso­lute best way, aes­thet­ic­ally, to describe a night/mortuary workbench/lake lit by moon­light? The draft will prob­ably be much longer than the first draft. Decisions of tone, pace, and all that will need to be made. Then it will be draf­ted a few more times. Probably, that’ll involve print­ing the thing out, cor­rect­ing the lan­guage, and doing it again.

The fun you can have. Next time, the journ­al will look into issues like the cov­er for the book.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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