TAP043, A Tale of Two Novels: My Experience Writing into the Dark
TAP043, A Tale of Two Novels: My Experience Writing into the Dark
In February, I finished my experiment with writing into the dark, and I’ll discuss how I achieved this, along with the response of my favourite beta reader.
As you’ve come to expect, I will share my writing stats, days, time, word count and the step-by-step process that I used. Now that I’ve mentioned that, it’s crucial that I point out that I’m following Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing Into the Dark method, which he teaches in a course and in a book. I highly recommend that you check out both of these options if you’re interested in learning this writing into the dark technique.
Without further ado, let’s get into the episode.
My Writing Journey
Before I dive into the writing statistics for The Locked Room, there are a few things you need to know about my writing journey.
Since 2011, I’ve written four screenplays, all romantic comedy genre. Then I adapted the last screenplay that I wrote into a novel when I discovered self-publishing in 2013. Around the same time, I discovered that while I could write a romantic comedy, I couldn’t make a career in this genre. The first screenplay I wrote I ended up losing due to a hard drive failure, so I rewrote it from scratch. After deciding that I didn’t like the story, I used the characters in another script with an entirely different plot that became script number four. These characters were the earliest versions of some of the characters in the James Lalonde universe. Screenwriting was where I learned about story structure—it was one of the best crash courses I could’ve gotten.
So far, I’ve published four stories within the James Lalonde Universe—The Lawn, Suspicion, The Candidate, and Duplicity. Also, I have written one long unpublished novel. Technically, this novel was the first story I wrote featuring James Lalonde, but I soon realised there was more to the series I needed to write before publishing that novel. Including the three surviving screenplays, I’ve written 379,000 words of fiction, both published and unpublished works. And I regularly do courses on story structure and writing craft.
The Locked Room
Here’s everything you need to know about the Locked Room. You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing this with you. The answer is simple; I want to create a clear picture of the type of story that I wrote into the dark.
The Locked Room is a story that follows a single point of view. And has a simple timeline that doesn’t jump between time periods and has no flashbacks. It’s an amateur sleuth murder mystery, so I’m aware of the genre and its tropes. As the title suggests, the novella contains the locked room trope and, thus, has a closed setting with a small cast of characters.
Writing Stats for The Locked Room
- Writing Time: eighty-nine hours and nine minutes
- Days: twenty-two
- Draft Word Count: 26,201
Grammar and Spelling Edit
- Writing Time: nine hours and thirty-seven minutes
- Days: Two
- Draft Word Count: 25,758
- Added or Removed: – 443 words
Beta Reader Edit
- Writing Time: three hours and two minutes
- Days: One
- Draft Word Count: 26,171 words
- Added or Removed: + 413 words
I didn’t write every day, only a few days a week, four at the most. And I spent a lot of time listening to my manuscript being read to me using the voices from Natural Readers. The total writing time for the Locked Room is 101 hours and forty-eight minutes across twenty-five days.
About The Candidate
Because I have written six books, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to compare the experience of Writing into the Dark and its statistics with another story of a similar length that I wrote with an outline. The Candidate is a similar length in terms of words, but it has a non-linear timeline in certain parts of the book and contains multiple points of view.
The Writing Stats for the Candidate
- Writing Time: 37 hours and thirty minutes
- Days: fifteen
One of the reasons why the outline took fifteen days was I chose to edit the outline before writing the first draft. I wanted to check for plot holes as a way of not repeating the mistakes of the past.
- Writing Time: 50 hours and 58 minutes
- Days: Sixteen
- Draft Word Count: 25,747
- Writing Time: 13 hours and thirty minutes
- Days: Four
- Draft Word Count: 25,976
- Added or Removed: + 229
To guide the writing of the first round of revisions, I compiled a list of story questions, then went through the novella and checked if these questions were answered and the scene where the reader discovers this answer. This led me to make revisions based on these unanswered questions. Next, I performed a line edit using the built-in A.I. voice in my iMac to listen to the scenes read back to me. And I used Grammarly and ProWriting Aid* to find any last-minute errors.
Beta Reader Revisions
- Writing Time: 14 hours and thirty minutes
- Days: Five
- Draft Word Count: 26,439
- Added or Removed: + 463
Over on Fiverr, I hired three beta readers and combed through their reports and inline comments, then made changes to the manuscript based on these comments. Also, I performed a line edit using the iMac AI voice, Grammarly, and ProWriting Aid* before sending my manuscript off to my editor. The total writing time for The Candidate is 116 hours and 48 minutes across forty days.
Where did I save time in my writing?
I know this is a weird question to ask, but I thought it had an interesting answer. Overall, I saved fifteen hours by writing into the dark, and the biggest difference can be seen in the time spent on revisions based on beta reader feedback. There were fewer mistakes to correct in the Locked Room.
Other than stats, what was different about these two writing experiences?
Writing the Locked Room was an enjoyable experience. While my writing was broken up between a six-week trip to Australia and a trip to France to visit my in-laws, I looked forward to getting back into writing. It was almost as if I had returned to those days when I was writing screenplays after work and over the weekend. And I had no idea what lay ahead of me.
Whereas while writing the Candidate, I enjoyed outlining, character creation, and the research phases. But, the first draft and revisions were difficult, and I hated this part of the process; I had to bribe myself to get to the writing chair. Writing had become a job, and there was no joy left.
During the time period when I wrote the Candidate, I didn’t write every day, and I struggled with my mental health, which resulted in long gaps between writing sessions, but the lack of joy was definitely experienced in the first draft and revisions. For me, this is the biggest difference—The Locked Room and writing into the dark helped me love writing again.
How Did I Write the Locked Room into the Dark?
The method I use to write into the dark is the technique taught by Dean Wesley Smith in both his book* and the course—I highly recommend you check out the course and learn the technique directly from him.
Start with a Concept
Before I started writing, I had a concept in mind. In my book Duplicity, James Lalonde mentioned that he solved a murder at the bed and breakfast run by Professor Xavier Watson and his wife, Flora. And that’s everything I knew before putting my fingers on the keyboard. At the time, I didn’t realise that the story was a locked room mystery.
One of the things I did differently with The Locked Room than The Candidate is I filtered everything through the point of view character. So, the reader experiences the setting and events filtered through James’s opinion, and nothing exists outside of that. In episode TAP040, I go into deeper detail on this topic.
Outline as You Go Along
I started off the story by writing a description of the setting filtered through the point of view character; Dean Wesley Smith calls this Writing with Depth, and then I let the story evolve from there. At the end of each scene, I added the details of the scene into an outline spreadsheet, keeping track of the scene number, point of view character, scene goal, scene type, plot, scene blocking, value shifts, conflict, stakes, cliffhanger, story question, timeline information, and foreshadowing.
Just a side note, this outlining method is mine, but Dean writes plot notes, setting and character details. As I go along, I create character profiles in Scrivener as I go, so I can keep things consistent in later scenes. My outlining technique might have added extra time to the writing process, but it’s probably an extra ten minutes.
Cycling is the Key
After creating the outline, I cycle through what I had just written and add more depth to the story. Please note this is adding more depth to the story, not line editing or correcting spelling and grammar. Next, I wrote the next scene, created the outline for the new scene, then cycled through scenes one and two and added more depth. To help me see what I was adding to the text during these cycling periods, I used the revision feature in Scrivener* and then switched back to normal mode when writing a new scene.
Research and Other Tips
I guess you’re wondering, what about the research? All research was done as the need arose, and nothing was left to fix later because the research often led to ideas that helped me to keep writing. If I was stuck and didn’t know what to write, I gave myself time to think, read a book, watched a true crime podcast episode or took a short break—but in the end, I just asked myself, “what would James do next?” Just before I wrote the last scene, I went back and added more depth to moments where I told instead of showing the events taking place, then wrote the last scene.
But, Wait You Write Mysteries
And I didn’t know who the killer was until the very end. As I got into the story, I had theories in a similar way that a reader does, but I didn’t know who the killer was until James was faced with a gun.
After Writing into the Dark
As I wrote and cycled, I spent a lot of time listening to my story being read back to me using Natural Readers. This helped me hear clunky sentences, overused words, and where the scene needs more depth or emersion into the setting. My second draft was essentially a line edit performed with the help of Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid,* so the story was readable for my alpha and beta readers. Before I hired my beta reader on Fiverr, I wrote the book description.
What was the experience like compared to outlining?
After I finished writing The Locked Room and performed the line edits, I struggled with it because I felt like I had to keep revising it. What I didn’t realise at the time was there was only a fifteen-hour difference between the two methods; I just didn’t notice the time had flown. I legitimately enjoyed the writing experience to the point where I thought this couldn’t be right; the story must be terrible. So, I have a few mindset issues that I need to work on, even now after recording this episode and waiting to receive feedback from my editor, I still think this book might be a pile of garbage—I’ve even caught myself hypothesising that the reason I haven’t heard back from my editor is because the story is bad.
AutoCrit and Marlow
Next, I put my manuscript into Marlow* because I was curious about what the report would say. For those of you who don’t know, Marlow is an A.I. tool that analyses your writing and is created by authors.ai, who are the authors of the Best Seller Code. And surprisingly, the pacing of The Locked Room was in line with bestsellers in my genre.
The Locked Room in AutoCrit
After that, I got even more curious about the score my book would get from AutoCrit, so I uploaded the book into the software, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. In AutoCrit, my manuscript got a score of 88 out of 100 when compared to books in my genre. Just for reference, the edited version of Suspicion got 90.8 which is a great score for pacing. Looking back, I’m not sure why I compared The Locked Room to Suspicion and not The Candidate, but that’s the choice I made at the time of the recording.
Above is a screenshot of the results for Suspicion in AutoCrit.
Feedback from My Beta Reader
Over on Fiverr, I hired my favourite beta reader. As a part of their service, I receive both a report and inline comments on the manuscript, so I can see their reaction as they read the story. But here’s an extract from the report they sent to me.
“I feel like each time I write one of these about a James Lalonde story, I always start out by saying, ‘this is my favourite one so far,’ but, in a lot of ways, I think that might be true for this one, too! Starting with the pacing – I thought it was excellent throughout. We get to the murder relatively quickly, and pretty much every second up to that point is used assembling the main cast and setting the stage in a way that makes all of them seem rather suspicious and like they all have something they’re hiding. In the overall scope, the story read very briskly, and I just sailed along through it. I definitely felt like the pacing in this story made it a real page-turner.”
So, there were no issues with underdeveloped characters or motivations, and there were no plot holes, which is a huge relief.
Do I regret not trying this earlier?
The short answer is no.
Now was definitely the right time for me to start writing into the dark. After revising Missing into the now third edition, titled Suspicion and making substantial rewrites to Duplicity, I was ready to let go of outlining. But outlining five stories and four screenplays, as well as transitioning from screenwriting to novel writing, taught me three-act structure that was a necessary part of my journey. I’m not saying that I know everything; in fact, I’m still learning the craft of storytelling. But I didn’t just discovery write my first book; I took a journey to get to a place where I was ready.
So, that’s all of the things that I can discuss in terms of my experiments with Writing into the Dark. If you’re interested in learning how to write into the dark then I highly recommend you take Dean Wesley Smith’s Course or read his book* on the topic and not just take the tips that I shared. The course was definitely worth purchasing.
Later on, after I receive feedback from my editor, I will share their thoughts with you as well. Now, I have an important question to ask you. Have you considered writing into the dark or discovery writing? Or, do you discovery write your stories? Come on over to the blog post and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
I want to hear from you. Share your process or struggles with writing scenes in the comments section below or over in the Am Writing Fiction Facebook Group. If you like, you can submit your writing exercise to me in the Am Writing Fiction Facebook Group.
Thank you for listening, and happy reading and writing, everybody.
* DISCLAIMER: This blog post contains affiliate links (marked with an *), which means if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission. The commission helps support the blog and allows us to continue to make content like this. Thank you for your support. 🙂
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I’m Amelia. When I’m not hosting the Authorpreneur Podcast™️ and the Book Nerd Podcasts, I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Suspicion, the Lawn, and the Candidate.
On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process.
Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Suspicion, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.