Dan Thompson is in first draft seat today.
Dan lives in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire (England) with his young daughter and his shabby dog, Skye.
He is the Author of the charity poetry book Life is all but a vast array of Colours and phobia Novella The Caseworker’s Memoirs. His first full length novel, A YA Fantasy entitled The Black Petal will be available soon. Also in 2014, a dark new-adult novel entitled Here Lies Love will be released.
A lover of YA and fantasy fiction, you can often find him writing on his blog, writing book reviews and connecting online with other writer-type people. Dan grew up reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series, secretly coming up with his own inventive adventures, and R.L Stine’s The Goosebump series, before turning to the works of Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer and Marcus Sedgwick and slipping away into alternate realities. He also loves a good Historical Thriller too.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
The main character is always the first thing I think about. They have to have a name and I must know their general background. My mind won’t allow me to write until it knows the person’s story I am about to tell. Naming characters can be quite hard, can’t they? There are so many wonderful and crazy names out there. Generally though, one name will stand out to me. That’s when I know that I can go forward with the next stage of the process – or rather my process.
Oh, and I also start off in a brand new shiny notepad too. It’s a new beginning. When I’ve finished with writing a book, I like to close that one and store it. It’s sort of closing that chapter before I start on something else.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I always plan before I make a start on the actual writing. It can be a generalised plan, you know, bullet point kind of stuff. It is important to get the structure right. By getting it down on a piece of paper, my brain will then start to function. I actually try to build on the plan over the course of say, two or three weeks. The plan I start off with isn’t usually the plan I finish with. I’m constantly adding and scribbling and drawing mile long arrows all over the place – all in different colours. I have mock chapter titles, and I’m told this is quite normal too, to have actual dialogue written down, ready to slip right in when I get to that chapter.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Oooh, definitely pen and paper. An empty page can easily be filled with notes, sentences, actual structured paragraphs, checklists, To-Do’s etc. A blank screen intimidates me.
How important is research to you?
Research can take shape in any which way. It is always different for each novel you write. I love learning about new things and how things work, or how so and so accomplished this and that. I’m a lover of mythology and for my young adult fantasy novel The Black Petal (plug alert: which has just been signed by Ghostly Publishing – yay!) I read all kinds of different myths. For my upcoming novel Here Lies Love, research went differently. No gods or magic in here. I had to research specific things. Despite being a dystopian novel, I still wanted bagfuls of realism. I’ve found that whether your book is a fantasy, crime drama, erotic love triangle – you name it, the reader will always know when something isn’t quite right. You have to hit the nail on the head.
How do you go about researching?
First things first, it has to be Wikipedia. I know a lot of people hate it, but it is actually a tremendous help in articulating where you want things to go and how to go about writing it. It is so accessible and easy to read too, which makes for great research notes.
For more informative research, I hit the books. It is a perfect excuse to visit your local library, and the ambiance inside helps get your head in the correct frame. I always find that if I take my notebook and a pen, and then copy the bits out that I want, I can easily come back to it, but also, I take it in more at the same time.
Of course, with the internet readily available pretty much everywhere now, you can’t ignore the plethora of websites that may interest you – even if it looks like you know pretty much everything about the certain subject you are researching. There could be one little titbit, one little fact that actually hits home and could be an excellent feature in your novel. When I was writing The Black Petal, as part of it is set in Victorian times, looking at name databases listing common names in particular years, helps again to add believability into your story.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
In my notepad, of course! Well, all the writing bits anyhow. As I have a few different colour pens, it is easy for me to distinguish between research notes and actual writing. Lugging pens and pads and books can be a little tiresome though, as well as heavy. It isn’t practical all the time, so sometimes, I use a large R with a circle around it to record segments as research. The great thing about notepads is that you can always flick through them. It feels ‘real’ if it is in a notebook.
Above my computer though, I do have a large board where I pin things on and use lots of sticky notes – you know, those yellow square bits of paper that go in and out of fashion. As my computer is in my living room, whenever people come over, they always have a nosy at what I’m doing.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
As you can probably tell, I’m an organised soul. Everything has to follow. And the same goes for when I’m writing the first draft of something. I simply start at chapter 1 and go on from there. I did try writing a scene that occurs later on in the book, but it wasn’t successful. My OCD wouldn’t allow it.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I have to have my writing pen – usually a Parker pen. And a coffee somewhere along the line. Whenever I write in Costa I have to have my medium caramel latte without a doubt!
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
Working full time night shifts, as well as being a single parent means I don’t have the luxury to write whenever I want to. I have to set time apart just for writing. This means that weeks could go past without much work towards my project is done. Life does tend to get in the way at times, but that’s how my life works and I have to fit my projects around essential things. Bills needs paying – unfortunately.
What does your work space look like?
As I use a pen and a notepad, my work space can be anywhere, so it differs all the time.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
One of the benefits of writing by hand and then later typing it up is that as I type, I can edit as I go along. Obviously thorough edits will take place after the first draft is finished. As I’ve been going through some bits recently, I’m embarrassed to admit that I came across ‘son’ instead of ‘sun’.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I’m one of those word counters I’m afraid. I don’t know why I do it, but there is something satisfying about knowing how many words I’ve written. I guess it all comes down to having evidence of doing some actual writing.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
My first draft for Here Lies Love took about five months – much longer than some authors I know. I think they would be horrified if it took them that long. As I have already admitted to my OCD nature and structured plan following, it is in pretty good shape if I don’t say so myself. Actually, I’m quite proud of myself for not having to move anything around with this one. I’m happy with how it has turned out.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
Green people of the world turn away now.
Done? Ok – so I print it all out, chapter by chapter and go through it with either a green or orange pen. Red pens are scary, orange is much friendlier, more like helpful suggestions rather than LOOK AT THIS MISTAKE!
What happens now that first draft is done?
I’m lucky to have so many great writer friends. They help me out loads! And to them, I’ll be ever grateful. I have a wonderful author friend who is willing to edit it for me. She’s great! And friendly too, ready to offer her advice and also to comment when something is good too. After a bad editing experience left me feeling really dejected and useless, I’m appreciative for the friends I have.
When the book is edited, the book will go off to first readers before being made available for the general public. For Here Lies Love, I’m taking on a lot. The book will be available in various eBook formats across so many retailers, paperback and hardback too. The amount of proof work required for all is huge! If there is a demand, I may consider releasing a large print version – I really don’t want people left out.
Promotion and Marketing is also a huge task! Posters have to be made, and for the first time, I will be opening a shop site where fans can order signed posters, mugs, keyrings and print Tshirts. I may not sell many, but the profit is not what is important to me here, it is about building up a fanbase. I aim to please – cheesy, yes, but honest too.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
You can chat with Dan on his Website, Twitter and Facebook.
To read any of the previous First Draft Q&A’s you can check the list Here.
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