First draft, rough draft, dirty draft. You know where I’m coming from here. The thing is to write and write some more. It’s all new and in the words of the Director of Deliverance, ALL GOOD.
Or is it? When do you go with the flow of a scene that’s just taken a surprising turn, and when do you rein in and say, hang on, this isn’t part of the plan? How much does it matter (as posted by Maria Smith) if you think your first chapter, the starting point of the whole thing, is wrong?
Well I’m not going to get stuck in the mire of plotting and pantsing, but I think there are some decisions that need to be made early on. Not because there is anything in a first draft that can’t be undone, but because some things are much harder to undo than others.
Last week I had a think about point of view – who is the main character, and/or how many do you need? (In the interim I have discovered someone who has twelve – yes twelve, his must be Love Actually territory!) But in fact if we decide we don’t need the inmost thoughts of the heroine’s sister-in-law (fascinating though they may be) or if we decide to cut her out altogether, it’s not the end of the world: a few scenes chopped, a few paragraphs rewritten, and maybe some reworking so that we see her, say, through the heroine’s eyes. In Kettle I began with two MCs/POVs. Once the plot had cemented, this was clearly not going to work. But getting rid of one was a lot less effort than I expected. The scenes could stand, they just needed some rejigging.
But there’s another kind of POV and that’s the grammar part (it might be syntax, do correct me if I’m wrong). i.e. will I write in first (I) or third person (he/she), mix it up, or go mad and attempt second (you). My first novel was firmly in third person and never wanted to be anything else. But when Ailsa came long it all felt like an experiment. As a heroine she was a generation younger than me. I felt the need to get into her skin and I began in first person present tense. Well present tense was fun at first but hard to maintain. I also had an inkling it might alienate readers and so I dropped it fairly early on. But first person stayed right to the end of the first complete draft, at which point I recalled all the advice I’d had from writers, agents, people trying to help and began to rewrite in third person. Trust me, this is not something to take on lightly. Since my heroine, obviously, was in every scene, pretty well every line had to be rewritten. The only solution was a new draft. But although my new version had some merits (well I thought so) it somehow didn’t feel like what I had set out to do. So whad’ya know? I threw over my own traces and changed it back to first person! I had saved the old version, but in trying to combine the two, my proof-reader will tell you I made a bit of a mess.
On to the new Work in Progress, the first draft, the all good scenario. But any WIP is in my book a bit of an experiment – will it stay the course? This time I had no desire to use first person, so that was a relief. But again that need to get some immediacy in unfamiliar territory took over and I found myself writing in present tense (quite ironic as it’s set in the 19th century!)
Now there are many fine novels written in present tense, some of which have fared pretty well, including Wolf Hall which I read round the time I started this particular novel. Maybe my choice of tense was simply a case of ‘interference’ from my reading. But whatever the reason, I wrote a good 15000 words in present tense before I stopped to question it and it was only when I returned after a lengthy writing break that I found myself ‘slipping’ into past tense, which on the face of it is a better place to be (Mantel, moi?) And that’s where I was today when I looked at yesterday’s work and thought it lacked the intimacy I was trying to engender.…. So here we go again. I have some scenes in past tense and some in present. Yes, it can be changed, but is/was is like I/me/mine. It’s everywhere.
Now that the world has changed and we (or some of us) are no longer worried about writing conventions or the demands of those elusive agents, it’s easy to say ‘there are no rules’. But a few decisions early on can make a big difference.
If anyone else is a fan of the lovely Hugh, do visit his website which has a nice charity thing going on. Hope this small direction absolves me from having ‘repurposed’ any images.