Hello, and welcome to the fourth stop on my Piece of Cake Blog Tour. I would like to thank my good friend, Jay, for allowing room on his website to pen a few words about my debut novella, Cake. When I asked him to feed me a topic on which to write, he asked me to do a piece about the obstacles I encountered writing the novella, and how I overcame them.
You see, I love to write, and I love to talk about writing, be it my own or somebody else’s. Supply me with a reading list and a cheeky Merlot, and I’m happy to wax lyrical well into the night about the difference between splatter fiction and gore fiction, or how themes of sexuality in the works of Jane Austen and Poppy Z. Brite are only separated by their position in time. Hell, make it two bottles of Merlot, and I even argue persuasively over who would win in a fight between H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe (it’s Poe, by the way).
However, when it comes to discussing the obstacles I came across in writing the longest single piece of fiction I have penned to date, I have a problem. Those obstacles, as they might be called, are the reason I bother to sit down at my computer in the first place. If the words came easily, slotting into place on the page as if controlled by a Tetris grandmaster, there would be no reason to write them. As anyone who has taken part in the National Novel Writing Month will be able to tell you, ratcheting up the word count is only the beginning.
Still, I’m not one to back down from a challenge.
The biggest problem I found, when writing Cake was the simple matter of how much to put in there. The story is set on the Wirral, where I live (hey, if it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me), in the year 2053. The Wirral has been cut off from the rest of Britain (both literally and figuratively), and I had concocted an elaborate backstory to explain why this was the case, and what effect it had had on the inhabitants, not to mention my heroine, Geraldine.
I wrote page after page detailing what had happened, why it had happened, and what efforts had been mad to restore normality and, though I say it myself, there was some good stuff in there. The problem was that none of it had any bearing on the plot, except in the most tangential way.
There was no need, for example, to detail how the local government had collapsed, following the Separation. I just needed to point out who was in charge, and how they had got there. This is Geraldine’s story, and if politics don’t affect her day-to-day life, then I didn’t need to include them. There were other issues that seemed so vital to the setting, such as the force that had separated the Wirral from the mainland in the first place. I wrote half a dozen pages on that little topic, some of which was the closest I have ever come to penning a cosmic horror tale, but Geraldine’s story never concerns itself with that sort of scale.
It is the hardest lesson for the young writer (stop that sniggering at the back there – 34 is the new 25!) to strip away their verbose prose and inflated verbiage down to its very core, but it is perhaps the most important. Cake clocks in at around 20,000 words, but before the Red Pen Massacre that is my editing technique, it was closer to 30,000. Nearly a third of my original draft ended up in the bin, and most of it was perfectly acceptable writing.
I’m still a novice at this, but I’m learning all the time, and I genuinely think it’s the only way you can go about crafting a career as an author. Every new story, every new release, should be an exercise in honing your skills as a writer. Yes, I lost ten thousand words (or about two weeks’ worth of writing), but I gained much more. I know that, whether people love it or hate it, the writing in Cake is as tight and as lean as it can possibly be.
That was the challenge and, if I’m being honest, that was the fun.