A mock-up logo idea for Their Grande Finale
Anybody who has known me in the past seven years generally knows that my dream job is to be an author. The majority have also been told that I’ve been working on my first book for a long time, starting at the age of 14. With my lofty ambitions pushed on by the success of writers like Christopher Paolini with his Inheritance Cycle, I began Their Grande Finale. I chipped away at it for a while before trying to really get it done after finishing my AS-Levels but ran into a stumbling block that was a part-time job that I needed and certainly wanted at the time. Eventually I did finish a draft that came in at just over 50,000 words, barely qualifying as a novel and then I got to university and it went back on the back-burner. I’d always known I needed to edit it, adding in more character development and generally slowing the frenetic pace down a bit where necessary. That said, while at university I barely glanced at it. Four years of struggling to get the words out and then being faced with the mammoth editing task alongside the most important academic period of my life prevented me from getting any further. Then in my last term I got the printed copy out again and looked at the Prologue and could not get over how childish and almost tacky it all felt. In that moment I decided that once I graduated I was going to re-write the entire thing. I still love the plot, the characters, and the world I came up with back then but they deserve a much tighter and more mature prose style to accompany them. So, how on earth do you go about re-writing a novel? Well, this is my plan and the progress I’ve made so far…
1. Find a New Title
Part of me always felt daft when I said that the title of my first novel was Their Grande Finale. I know exactly why I chose it as a title. It’s a direct reference to Final Fantasy in the hopes of evoking that grandiose RPG tone, it worked in the context of the narrative as the afterlife were part of the plot is set was called Grande Finale and it referred to two important events. In spite of that, it’s just a terrible title. After deciding on shifting the name of the afterlife to Helheim to more directly reflect the Norse mythology that is going to be threaded throughout the series, Their Grande Finale also became outdated.
A mock-up logo design for the new title
The new title I came up with is The Burning Ash Cycle: Hideki. It’s still not great, I know. But, I quite like the idea of calling the planned series a ‘cycle’ as it evokes the medieval literature grew to love over the course of my degree. Also the mythic fantasy-esque nature of that connection is important to what I want to achieve, particularly in this first novel. J.R.R. Tolkien is obviously the go-to writer for inspiration in the fantasy genre because of The Lord of the Rings, but while I don’t wish to replicate his style, I do wish to have that same medieval grounding. Tolkien specialised in Middle and Old English texts and I am very happy to own his very helpful edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it is those medieval romances of the Gawain poet, of Chretien de Troyes, of Chaucer, and all the anonymous writers whose works remain with us that I wish to evoke. Also, the ‘Burning Ash’ works quite neatly with the over-arching concept I have for my series and Hideki is the name of the main character. At present, I am rather happy with the title but I suspect that it’ll change on the long road to a hopeful publication. Still, with a new title, a fresh start can be made and the novel should be able to grow into the fun, exciting, and heartfelt creation that I’ve been working towards for so long.
2. Sort out the chapters and narrative arc plan
Seeing as I already had a first draft of the novel, I already had my plot and the majority of the key set-pieces. When I wrote that first draft I wanted to have 26 chapters with a Prologue and an Epilogue, because I am perhaps too fond of symmetry. As these were mostly set-piece style chapters, it explains why I struggled to get to the 80,000 words I need to reach to even stand a chance of getting published. So, what was my ingenious solution? Increase the total number of chapters to 42 including the Prologue and Epilogue and this allows me to pivot from Chapter 20 to Chapter 21, while providing enough space for character development and pauses in the action to improve the pacing.
With all these extra chapters and basic plot ideas I needed names for them. Due to my highly intertextual way of writing, I always knew I wanted my chapter titles to act like a soundtrack for the novel by referencing video game songs. If I ever manage to get this novel published then I would love for people to figure out where those titles lead because they’re really quite effective at setting the mood of each chapter. Fun fact: During the re-writing completed so far, I have basically listened to that playlist on loop and it has been hugely helpful. There’s just something in music that allows you to write solemn pieces to sad music and fast action sequences to battle music. Whether this will actually truly help in the end is another matter altogether, but it does provide me with a nice overview of where I’m heading.
3. Get some friends in as a sounding board to provide criticism
When I wrote that first draft, I didn’t let anybody look at it until it was done and even then, I just gave it to my dad and my English teacher for feedback for the entirety of the novel. The response I got was useful, but I do think that they were being kind to protect my feelings. In some of the stuff I’ve read online about the writing process, there are so many writers who say: ‘Don’t edit as you go along’. The reasoning behind that is largely, if you keep editing the same bit, you don’t make any progress on the whole. However, and this may just be the way my brain works; I think I’ll actually make more progress and superior progress by getting feedback on a chapter by chapter basis.
I’m looking forward to more of these! (Source)
This is why I’ve asked a few of my friends who I know read fantasy in some form and who I’ve talked about literature to in the past if they’d help me with feedback. The first draft of a novel is always going to be a case of a diamond in the rough, but with blunt and honest feedback in small chunks I can fix the biggest issues quicker and more effectively as I won’t be swamped by swathes of text. I enjoyed writing my dissertations for university, but that editing process was hellish because it’s always far more difficult to critically fix your own work. I know for a fact that I frequently use run-on sentences, but I can never spot them as I’m writing or afterwards. The other thing that will help is the solidification of character and events throughout the novel. Having to improve sequences as I go along should hopefully mean I have a stronger grasp of where my characters are and how the narrative is unfolding. Whether this method does help me in the end remains to be seen, but it has made me a lot more confident in cracking on with writing. It is also preparing me for the inevitably difficult road of rejections and edits on my journey to publication. The thicker this skin can get the better.
With all of that ready, the only thing left to do is write. I no longer have the excuse of essays and research for GCSEs/A-Levels/Degree, my free time is entirely my own and I couldn’t think of a better time to just get on with it. I’ve already re-written my Prologue, got feedback on it and tried to act on that feedback. At the time of writing this post I’m part way through Chapter 1 and loving being back with these characters and in this world. My dream has always been to get my first novel published by the time I was 25. I’ve got three and a half years to try to make that happen and I am more determined than ever. My plan is to have this novel drafted, re-drafted and ready before this time next year so that I can begin the process of finding a literary agent and getting it published. As I go, I’ll most certainly keep this blog updated with tales from the grindstone and should I ever manage to get anywhere, it’ll be a nice reminder to me of just how far I’ll have come.