>Being the fifth in a series charting the writing of a new fantasy detective story.
Here are the first couple of paragraphs of the current work-in-progress. This is first draft, unedited.
I woke to find the city had been flattened. Literally.
I rubbed my eyes. Maybe this was the back end of a bad dream. I’d been having plenty of those lately. I wiped the window. I tried to see something that made sense. But it wasn’t there.
Usually, when I take in the view from my office, I see the rumpled tarmac of the same old street I’ve looked out on for the last ten years. I see the faded grey line that runs down the centre – I can’t remember the last time the municipals sent someone down here to paint it in white – and the gutters piled high with rats-nest newspapers and broken bottles. I see the low-rise buildings slumped opposite, the line of struggling businesseses that share this forsaken corner of town with mine: Diana’s Deli; Nimblequick the Tailor; the Marscapone Motel. Every day the same.
Not this day.
Everything was gone. The familiar city skyline had been replaced by a distant horizon so sharp I thought my eyes would bleed. Between me and that horizon was an infinite plain, a horizontal surface stretching in all directions like the biggest sheet of paper you ever saw. The whole world had emptied. The whole world had turned flat.
I should make it clear, if I haven’t already, that I’m not planning to publish this story online. I’ll publish extracts like the above to show progress, or illustrate a point, but I’m really here to discuss the writing process. So here goes.
As I suspected, I was wrong to get sidetracked into discussing why the PI sleeps in his office (see previous entry). Better to get straight in there and describe what he sees. The sleeping in the office thing will bear on his emotional state later in the story, but I should introduce it more naturally eg by having another character ask him about it – probably the femme fatale (need a good name for her) – rather than just having him reflect. Show don’t tell.Notes to self on rereading the above:
1. Don’t forget to mention our hero’s a private investigator – it may be obvious to me and regular readers of the series, but it’s helpful to spell it out early on.
2. Is this a funny story or not? The series as a whole has a fair streak of humour running through it. The last story I wrote (called Lifestrings of the Loving Couple, and so hot off the press that it’s only just landed in the lap of my agent) wasn’t very funny at all. I’ll have to see how this one develops.
3. I need an underlying threat. It’s all very well the city being flattened, but where’s the immediate peril? I could introduce a ticking clock: “If we don’t solve this by sundown something even worse will happen.” Or the catastrophe triggers some other disaster: some kind of underlying dimensional instability that will only get worse. Or something more immediate, like Lovecraftian inter-dimensional predators either admitted or brought into being by these remarkable conditions.
Anyway, I’ve now got about 600 words in the bank. Our hero has woken to discover a strange and unsettling situation. In the couple of pages that follow the above extract (no, I’m not going to show you them!) I’ve described that situation in some detail, and our hero’s reacted to it. Time for him to start investigating what’s going on. He could just start to explore, but I’d prefer something more dramatic. Maybe he hears a scream …