Sunday, 20 November 2016

Telling myself a story

Last weekend, I finally decided I'd had enough of researching my next book and sat down to start the first draft. I had enough info to begin it; I had my outline and a character sketch and I had a clear plan for how I wanted to get it from the opening to the end. I knocked out about 2,500 words over a few hours which is, roughly speaking, my average rate. It was a little messy but that's fine. It's a first draft after all, and while I know some writers who like to have every page pretty much perfect before they move on to the next one, that isn't me by a long way.

So, the next day I had a quick read of the preceding few hundred words and began my session. Within minutes, I hit a wall. Everything was off with the story. I tried it from a few different angles, but after best part of three hours, I'd written a little less than fuck all. Whichever way I went for it, nothing worked. Listening to my wife's suggestion of leaving it alone and sleeping on it made sense, and it took to the next afternoon for me to realise I'd started the book in the wrong place - too much going on, too much to keep track of and too many characters appearing all at the same time. I binned the original opening, started it from a later scene with the plan of summarising what happens before in either conversation or a few memoy scenes. So far, it appears to have worked. I'm about 8k in and while it's (again) messy as hell and I can already see that scenes will need moving around to make sense, it's not awful. I haven't got a fix on the characters yet although it's slowly coming with a couple of them and it's all quite loose and baggy compared to the tight, streamed story I wanted to write. No matter though. That's what the next drafts are for.

Anyway, the whole thing has reminded me of something I know but it's something I keep forgetting whenever I start a new book. For me, the first draft is telling myself the story. Nobody else: just me. While I have an outline and know what I want to say, the story is in charge and I have to tell it to myself before I tell anyone else. Over the next few months, that's exactly what I'll be doing with this tale of family and how to survive the end of the world.

And for what it's worth, now America has put Greg Stillson in charge, it's become that much harder to scare people with fiction.

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