I have found myself thinking about the next Skulduggery book a LOT lately, thinking about which of the story strands are going to intertwine and pay off, and which of the strands are going to continue into the next three books. Last week I wrote a five page scene where Valkyrie, consumed by rage, breaks into a police station and beats the hell out of a prisoner. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what DRIVES her to do something this extreme, but the fact is I wrote it, and that can only mean one thing:
I am now writing Skulduggery Pleasant Book Six.
I don’t really have much choice in these matters. I just seem to start without realising it, and eventually I stop and look around and go “Oooooh, I’m writing a book, so THAT’S what I’ve been doing for the past few days...”
It’s not like the timing is convenient for me, either. I have a couple of short stories to write for various things, I have to rewrite a horror-comedy script I wrote last year, and it looks like I’ll be working on at least one brand new script over the next few months (none of this Skulduggery related). And now, aside from all that, I’m apparently writing the next book, too.
I’m going to do my best to document the stages of writing as I reach them, in order to explain how I write. I know there is a bizarrely large proportion of you, my Minions, who are also writers, and I keep getting asked to give out tips, so hopefully, in the writing of this book, I’ll be able to respond to those requests.
This doesn’t mean, by the way, that this accursed Blog is going to turn into a writing class. The fact is, most of my time will be spent sitting at this desk, tapping at this keyboard, writing words just like these, and that’s not exactly going to be exciting reading. So the Blog will continue as normal, but a certain section will be taken up trying to explain what I do, and how I do it. And along the way, I might even leak some little tidbits about what what you can expect to happen to poor old Skulduggery and Val...
So, what is the first thing I do when I start a book?
A lot of this work has been done years ago, when I planned out the series. I knew that certain things have to happen in certain books, and I wrote it all down and I keep going back to it, taking bits out or adding bits in. It changes as I go, of course it does, but fundamentally it remains the same.
So, for Book Six, I have certain things that have to happen. Let us take, as an example, the first segment of my plan for Playing With Fire, which I think all of you have read. Very simply, I would have opened up a Word document and written:
Val more powerful.
Guild new Grand Mage. Doesn’t like Skul or Val.
Vengeous escapes. Meets Dusk.
Plans for Val’s family reunion.
China tells Skul/Val about the Grotesquery.
Val meets Echo-Gordon- tells her about the Torment.
Vengeous searching for Vile’s armour.
And that’s how I go on, literally keeping it that simple. Very short sentences that I just need to glance over. I don’t show this to anyone, by the way. I don’t show it to my agent or my editor- not even to Laura- because this is the roughest of rough outlines. Each one of those lines can be changed around. Maybe we know about the Grotesquery from the very start of the book. How will that affect everything else? There’ll certainly be more momentum, because once our heroes know what the threat is, it’ll be full steam ahead. But maybe I don’t want that. Maybe I want a few fun, bizarre chapters to start off with, and then BOOM- they’re told what’s at stake once all the subplots (the family reunion, China’s revelation that she used to worship the Faceless Ones) are established, and THEN they take off.
Occasionally I’ll already have some chapters written- like the Valkyrie breaking into the police station scene- so I don’t mind flitting from the start of the book to the middle to the end, and back again. I’ll link it all up later. Right now, I just want to start the book having fun.
The outline will grow as I go. The deeper I get into it, the more notes I’ll be making, and so eventually my nice and simple approach won’t work anymore. For every point, there’ll be a few lines, explaining why and what and how. But for now, at this early stage, I can get away with broad outlines, because not everything has been decided yet.
This is really useful for building enthusiasm for the book you’re about to write. You’ve put down enough notes to form a bare story, and you can suddenly see how these elements can be chopped and changed to make something better.
My advice is, don’t spend a lot of time on this. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Don’t waste all your enthusiasm and all your excitement on this part- keep all that for the actual writing. Which is what I’m going to do right...