I'm slowly coming to the end of writing the First Draft of the fifth book in my Harry Heron series. In fact, I'm currently working on the final chapter. Easy, some might say, but there are a number of dangling threads to be collected, and either tied off, cut out or used to link this story to the next ...
As I have developed this storyline I must say that I've had an enormous amount of help from editors, from what I call my "Alpha Readers" (friends who also write and offer critical appraisals of what I've drafted) and members of my family. Something I've noticed is that my style of writing has developed as well. Personally I think it has improved no end - but then, I would. So, I put the question to others, most of them known for being fairly forthright. Yes, I'm told, it has got better. Infinitely better.
Looking back I cringe at some of my first efforts in "creative" writing. I already had a fairly solid base in technical writing, and so thought, erroneously, it would be easy to make the transition. No. Not so. Not at all so. Where the technical writer makes exclusive use of a 'narrative' style, the author of fiction must do a lot less 'telling' and a lot more 'showing' in the story. So I've had to learn to write realistic dialogue. Ever actually listened to the way people speak? It isn't always grammatical, it certainly isn't always in complete sentences and is often riddled with adverbs. I didn't actually believe this myself until I recorded a conversation and then analysed what was said, by whom and how they said it. It was quite an eye-opener.
I can only say it is now hugely encouraging to go back to the first of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels and see how he changed his style, his characters and the writing itself as the story has developed. If someone that successful can still develop - then there is an example for all of us to follow.
That said, all of these lessons have taken root. Punctuation is still my bette noir and so are 'run on sentences.' So, when I finish a first draft, those are my first priority. I go through the whole thing carefully, inserting commas, apostrophes and all the other niceties (and taking a few out!) while hunting down the 'run-ons' and cutting them into digestible pieces. Then I send it to a trusted editor - and she rips things apart.
Here is a small sample of a piece from my latest draft of the penultimate chapter. It serves to underline what I'm rabbiting on about -
Mary flung her arms around him as he stepped from the transport.
"You were magnificent." She kissed him passionately. "He thought you'd attack him - did you see his face when you interrupted him?"
Harry returned the embrace, colouring a little sheepishly. "No, I was far to angry, I'm sorry to say. But I could not let him malign my Papa."
"Well done, Harry." Theo shook his hand. "I expect it was very interesting in the reception afterward."
Harry laughed. "That is one way to describe it. Some of the production staff looked terrified, others furious and of course, two of the panel looked as if they were facing a firing squad at any moment. Poor Monty, he looked as if he was halfway to a heart attack." His grin spread. "He drank four tumblers of whisky without, I suspect, even tasting them as soon as we were in their lounge."
Thank the Lord of iMac, Apple, Microslosh et al for those wonderful commands Highlight,''delete,''cut,''paste' and 'redo.' What would we authors do without them? I, for one, would be going through forests of paper and gallons of ink!