The Difficult Second Novel: 193,000 dead words

I would love to have a new book out in 2020, but as 2019 begins to draw to a close, it’s looking very unlikely. Never say never, but if I do get to release another one, it will probably be 2021, and the reason: The Difficult Second Novel.

“But Ed!” I hear you cry. “You’ve already published three!”

Whilst this is true, really Ravencry and Crowfall don’t suffer from “second novel”-ness, because the characters were already established. There was no need to invent a new conceit, a new world, an entire new cast, and a protagonist that I could really engage with. In essence, in the ways that creativity matters, they are extensions of Blackwing. If you think of Crowfall as a standalone, it’s a standalone with two full books of pre-made backstory that I knew pretty much by heart. So really a second series is similar to a second standalone novel.

Getting it right is important. But being happy with what you’re writing and putting out is vitally important too. In addition, I felt a need to do something notably different to The Raven’s Mark. I couldn’t write another depressed, 40 year old alcoholic veteran again. He’d just be Galharrow with a new name, and I’ve told all the stories I have in me about Galharrow, for now at least. I needed somebody new.

I have hit so many dead ends, and ditched so many projects since I finished Crowfall in 2018, that frankly it has astonished me. Below, alongside their working titles and a 1-2 line synopsis, are the word counts for the books that have been consigned to a file called “Archive.”

COVENLORE – 14,000 words

An apprentice battle wizard ends up with a cursed book he can’t get rid of, while trying to survive in the special forces branch in an arcane war.

SIXTH WOLF – 30,000 words

A ronin seeks to free his magically gifted, but challenging sister who is learning to commune with serpents as wide as a ten storey building. A fantasy samurai-western.

THE BOOK OF WINTER NIGHT – 25,000 words

A young man participates in a series of brutal coliseum games to win entry into the wizard school; a young woman is forced there by a vendetta against her family.

THE DEVIL BEYOND THE BLADE – 124,000 words

Honestly, by the time I was fed up with this, I had no idea what it was about or who the characters were. A ridiculously complex magical/science conundrum that was almost impossible to tell, and in fact may be impossible to do well.

Total: 193,000 words of dead books

What was it about these books that meant that I either didn’t continue them? There were multiple reasons, but the principle one was that I just wasn’t happy with putting my name to something that I didn’t feel was the absolute best work that I could produce. I need the characters to live in my head. When I hear a kick-ass tune come on, then I tend to begin imagining character montages. And that just wasn’t happening here.

I was also really keen that I didn’t just write something for the sake of it. Going into a second book, you might carry fans from a first series, but they’ll not carry on if you’re not knocking it out of the park with every story. The Raven’s Mark is a series that I’m prepared to stand by. Those that had to fall by the wayside were not.

It has been a very hard year. I came close to breaking a couple of times, under the pressure of trying to produce something that I thought had value, and trying to create something that had its own unique identity.

Today I hit the start of the run-up to concluding the novel that I’ve been working on since September. I’m confident that the first draft will be finished by the end of November. Its working title is GHOSTS OF REDWINTER but that will almost certainly change, as you probably shouldn’t put ‘Ghosts’ on the front of a non-horror book, but we’ll see, if or when that time comes. I’m not very attached to it, but titles are probably the thing to worry about at the very end. After all, ‘Blackwing’ didn’t even exist in the book as a concept until 3 days before it went off to publishers, as I made final edits.

I may post more about this project as time goes on. But for now, I’m glad to have 98,000 usable words down. Let’s hope I don’t change my mind about this one.

ravensmark trilogy

Published by EdMcDonald

Ed McDonald is the author of The Raven's Mark series of novels. He currently lives in the UK. Find me at www.edmcdonaldwriting.com

3 thoughts on “The Difficult Second Novel: 193,000 dead words

  1. Keep at it, Ed! I know from personal experience that sometimes we just don’t love the words we put down on the page. I pulled two series off the shelves, because I realized that I phoned it in at a certain point and only hit Publish to cave to the “keep publishing!” mantra that exists within the indie world. I’m glad you were able to recognize you didn’t love the stories before the point I hit. I hope you’re able to find your groove again soon. And for what it’s worth, I really like the title “Ghosts of Redwinter”.

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  2. On one hand I look at each of those synopses and cry because those are all brilliant concepts and I need them in my library like yesterday. But, I also understand the difficulty of starting a second series, and the pain of shelving something that isn’t working. This won’t mean much to you in the grand scheme of things, but 2021? 2025? It doesn’t matter to me. Just as long as I get another book from you before I die.

    Good luck my good man, I believe in you. I believe in the lightning bow–if this is in fact the story with the lightning bow (it doesn’t matter I still love it, the concept is fucking great).

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  3. I know that feeling– of turning on music, and losing yourself to the imaginings of characters and their stories and the emotional depth of them. I’m glad to hear you’ve found something you’re enjoying dedicating yourself to and look forward to reading it when it arrives. Your novels have impressed me with the layering of your characters and their depths and flaws and mistakes I don’t often see rendered so realistically. They feel like people in the context of their world, and I enjoy that immensely. I also appreciate that both your women and men are presented with strength and intellect and flaw, and none seemed pigeonholed by stereotype. I really do look forward to your next novels.

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