Sunday, 8 March 2009

Critical Mass

The Miracle of Santa Anna has dragged itself over the 100 page mark (about 20,000 words). This landmark is always an exciting moment for me. When I write I use a page size and font type that approximately matches the size the text will be if it gets published. Hence my completed manuscript will aim to run for 160 pages, the standard length of the westerns I write. With that in mind getting to a hundred pages always feels like a big moment. Up until then I'm doodling away, thinking out ideas, seeing where the story might go, but after a 100 pages it's time to take stock of the nonsense I've been churning out.

At that stage things ought to be coming together. I should start to have an idea where the story will end up. The bit to write is less than the bit written and it should be just a matter of filling in some rapidly diminishing white space… So for the first time I properly read what I've put down and ask myself whether I think it's working. It's no big hardship if it hasn't, but it's the right time to think that through.

The things I look for are the basics. Does the story have a main hero? Does he want to achieve something? Is that achievement interesting? Are there plenty of obstacles in his path? Has he resolved some of those obstacles and are there more to come? And perhaps the biggest but hardest to define - as a reader would I want to read on?

If I get a lot of no answers to those questions and I can’t see why, I put the ms aside and leave it for a few months to get a fresh perspective. If I can see why it's not working then I start redrafting to rectify the problems. And if I get more yes answers than no answers I carry on.

Luckily Santa Maria feels like it's going somewhere as Fergal O'Brien wants to achieve something worthwhile (which is a first for him! Usually he's either aiming to make a fortune or save his own skin, but this time he's trying to help someone). He's resolved many of the obstacles in his way. Or so he thought as all his plans are just about to fail so badly I can't see myself how he'll get out the mess he's in, although I know it'll have something to do with the eclipse. So I want to read on to find out what happens, which means I'll have to write it.

I'm still worried about the nun with the gun though as she's not yet felt an urge to pick up a weapon. And she's getting romantically involved with Fergal's sidekick Randolph, which feels very un-nunlike, but I'll carry on and see where it leads me during the home stretch.

1 comment:


I'm the same - 100 pages is the point of no return. When I get that far I know I'm going to finish the book. Mind you with the crime novel I'm working on I won't get that feeling till 150 pages.