How much pain?

One of the early things I spend time trying to figure out, when I commence a new project, is how much to put my protagonist through. How many experiences? How much pain? How many events? At what point does it become enough? Where does it become too much? Where does credibility/believability begin – and end? If you’re familiar with the main plot device in the Tempest series you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I’m currently working on Book Four in the series. Book Four is, in a truly contradictory style, the easiest and the most difficult of all four books to plan out. The reason for this is Book Four is the Tempest Origins story. How much pain do you put your protag through in an origins story? That’s where my head is at right now.

My planning spreadsheet has mapped out significant events from the protagonists childhood. And early adulthood (twenty-six counts as early adulthood, right?). And I’m about to take this big spanner from beside me, and throw it into the works.

But how many times do I throw this spanner into the works? How many times do I do this thing to the protag? This is the question I’m trying to answer.

Editing tip/iceberg

I’ll begin by confessing that I’m a serial editor. Tinkering with text just happens. I can’t leave it alone. I don’t believe I’m ever truly happy with the way something reads, though I can get close to it (through continuous tinkering). The trouble is continuous tinkering with a paragraph (or even with just a sentence) can quickly lead to a whole chapter rewrite. And then I’ll hit the page up button and start to tinker with the way the previous chapter ended. Then that whole chapter gets edited. Then page up. And thus* it goes.

So, I’ve begun doing things a little differently and I don’t know if my editor will agree, but I think this new way of working has improved the finished product of my writing.

I convert the work in progress to Kindle format and email it to my Kindle (well, der). Then, every evening when I am able to move the dogs around and they allow me to climb into bed, I read a chapter or two. I photograph what I don’t like (whether it’s a typo or a clumsy word or an inarticulate phrase). Only reading a chapter or two (about 1,600 words) a night is, I find, the key to success.

And then the next morning, after dogwalks and breakfast etc, I fire up the manuscript and make the changes. As I make those alterations, I see how those updates to the manuscript can reshape a piece, a chapter, a couple of paragraphs, or even just a sentence. And I allow myself to make those changes before saving the update and cracking on with the actual writing.

The interesting thing is, when I re-read the whole piece after going through this new process, I don’t have that same strong compulsion to tinker. It seems to be that I make my changes and then I’m done.

Re the serial editing: it’s early days yet, but we shall see what we shall see. But re the writing style: this method is a definite improvement.

*Anyone else think we don’t use the word ‘thus’ enough this days? Just me? OK then.