Are you a ‘dirty drafter’ or a detailed planner?
I’ve decided I’m the former even though I would dearly love to be the latter. Given the plot driven nature of my stories, I really should be a planner, but I kind of wing it a bit.
Why? Well, the answer is simple. I love the feeling that the manuscript is becoming something more than you planned. It’s almost like giving birth, albeit a lot less painful (physically, at least). You imagine what you might be making/have made, but it ends up an entity of its own. When characters become that little bit darker than you wanted, or you wake up in the middle of the night and realise they have to do something completely unexpected. That’s the feeling I’m after.
So as the countdown to National Novel Writing Month begins – now T-9 to lift off (or write off) – I’m reminded of why I like to bash down as many words as possible in the first instance. Just as the author of this article about drafting suggests, the more you write, the more you want to find out what happens next.
Of course, I’ll never go back to the dark days of no planning whatsoever. I’ve learned over the course of the last three years and two manuscripts, that you need a compass. Stephen King calls it his ‘what if?’ question, which is, as I understand it, a kind of ‘mashup’ of two or three ideas or events which make an entirely new entity you can use to kick off your novel concept. Faber Academy and other creative writing courses like to you get an elevator pitch down before you start – theory goes, if you can’t get the basic concept into one of these 25 word pitches, it won’t fly. This is probably true, by the way. But great long reams of planning charts and characterisation cards? No, this is not for me.
In a recent interview, Stephen King said the following:
I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write.
…And I had a slightly sad ‘Eureka’ moment of leaping into the air shouting ‘Yes!’. All very alarming, but then I have been working on first and second drafts of two as-yet unpublished books for the last two years. This, in addition to my job in digital communications and my somewhat disastrous attempts to bring up a teen, a pre-teen and a baby (now a Terrible Two).
Unsurprisingly, anything which makes me feel better about my writing process is a godsend.
Because I’ve realised over the last two or three years that this is what I do too. On a recent Faber Academy course I was taught how to look at the beginning of a novel in a more conceptual way. That was hard work. Necessary though, and it has transformed my writing.
However, it is extremely difficult to reconcile the conceptual approach with getting the story down into a first draft.
You can plan, but quite often the story changes a bit. Or maybe the characters morph into something a bit different from what you intended (which in turn alters the plot). Ugh. All good fun, but it messes up the beautifully conceived intro pages you’ve spent ages crafting…
So I’ve decided now, I’m with Stephen King all the way.
Get the first draft down then go back and craft!
So. I managed to write to the end of my first draft, my own personal ‘first hurdle‘.
Whilst I’m pleased about this, my first draft is little more than a skeleton. I have written out all my characters, the main plot and some of the themes.
I know that I still need to add considerable flesh to my characters and to their inner journeys, layer up my themes and add depth to my story world and generally tighten up the story.
I must make sure my story makes sense, that it will satisfy at least one reasonably sized reader segment. In doing this I will make a final decision on predominant genre and then add or subtract scenes, characters, themes and style to my manuscript depending.
In practical terms I am working through all of Joanna Penn’s tips on what to do when you get to the end of the first draft:
- Structural edit – my manuscript is with my Faber Academy tutor and will shortly go to the Writers’ Workshop.
- Beta readers – several trusted readers are looking through my story now and will look at again in June when I’ve done my post structural edit revisions.
- Line edits – I need to look for a freelance editor to help me with this in the summer which I will do shortly.
The end of the first draft is a difficult stage to get through. I know there are many more hurdles to jump after this but if I can get past this to the next step, I’ll be pleased!