Friday, 19 September 2008

From First Draft to Second - and Beyond

For many writers that I know, the best part of writing is the first draft. Allowing the creative juices to flow and transferring the scenes in your head to the words on the page (or screen). Everything that comes after that, the re-drafting and editing, is 'the hard work'. They don't see it as enjoyable going over the same story, characters and action and refining and perfecting the story.

You might have guessed already, but I actually enjoy going from first draft to second. And from second to third and ultimately to a final, ready to be published, finished product.

You see, for me, the creative part is the hardest bit. Telling the story, getting the plot right and hitting all the right beats to keep the pace right and the reader enthralled, is quite challenging. Ask anyone who knows me from the Fishtank and they'll tell you how I dither over plot direction and, in particular, finding a suitable ending.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing the first draft, but I think that deep down, I'm more of a writer than I am a storyteller.

What's the difference, I hear you ask. well, if you're a storyteller, probably not much. But to a writer, you know it's possible to be a superb storyteller, but a terrible writer. Take JK Rowling. The woman would struggle to write her way out of a paper bag, but she is an exceptional storyteller. The quality of writing in the Harry Potter series isn't up to much at all. I've always maintained that were she a writer in The Fishtank, she'd get hammered for her dialogue tags which aren't really tags, use of adverbs, and poor sentence construction. But she's created a vivid world, memorable characters and told an entertaining, captivating story.

Now, I, on the other hand, have a panic attack every time I write a passive sentence and worry about how to restructure the paragraph to get rid of it. I worry about how many adverbs I've used and avoid dialogue tags at all if I can get away with it. And this is why I enjoy working on re-drafting pieces. At that point, I know the story is told and I can concentrate on making the prose elegant and pleasing to the editor within.

Lost & Found is a case in point. I struggled to find the story, to get the plot right. But the parts of that story that I'm most proud of were written in the edit when I was working with Loukie. She pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to work on the development of The Colonel's character. Those extra scenes I added featuring The Colonel and his wife are, in my opinion, the best things about the book. They make it stand out. And you feel that you really know the man.

And the same thing is happening with Chloe's Education. I'm adding to it, cutting it, and re-writing great swathes of it. I'm able to forget about plot and work on character and setting. And frankly, I'm loving it. Below is an example of what I'm doing. Let me know what you think.

Chloe helped Adam collect up his scattered papers and then accompanied him back to his flat. He felt as if everyone was staring at him as they walked. He knew that no one was actually staring at him—they were gawking at the film star walking by his side. Chloe looked uncomfortable. As if someone had flicked a switch somewhere within him, he suddenly realised what the past three weeks must have been like for the young woman. He lengthened his stride and quickened his pace. Chloe kept step with him and they soon arrived at his apartment.

Has become :

Chloe helped Adam collect up his scattered papers and stuff them into his bag which he flung over his shoulder. Chloe held her books against her chest, even though she too had a bag over her shoulder. It was as if she was using them as a shield against the world that was causing her so much heartache. As they passed other occupied booths on their way out of the library, Adam noticed that the conversations within them seemed to stop. They passed a couple on the stairs between the first and ground floors. He felt their eyes follow him and Chloe and heard one whisper to the other, “Hey, that’s her. Who do you reckon that was with her?”

Across the library foyer, out the door and down the steps and through the campus. He felt as if everyone was staring at him. But he knew that no one was actually staring at him—they were gawking at the film star walking by his side. Maybe they wondered who he was, just like the couple on the stairs did, but that was only because he was with her. Had he been on his own, no-one would have given him a second glance. But that wasn’t the case for Chloe. She was the one everyone wanted to see. She was the one everyone stared at. He wished people would stop whispering, it was driving him crazy. Did they think he couldn’t hear them? That he wouldn’t notice? He glanced at Chloe. She looked as uncomfortable as he felt. As if someone had flicked a switch somewhere within him, he suddenly realised what the past few weeks must have been like for her.

“Come on,” he whispered. “Let’s hurry up.” He lengthened his stride and quickened his pace. Chloe kept step with him and they soon arrived at his apartment.

See the difference? See how I've used the expanded scene to add to both Adam's and Chloe's character? At least, that's what I hope I've done. Only you readers will be able to tell me if it's worked. Here's another example.

Adam, Eddie and Cassie called on Chloe at her house and they walked into town.

Has become :

“It’s one of these little ones?” Eddie asked as he, Cassie and Adam walked along Baker Street towards Chloe’s house.

“Well, she’s living alone,” said Cassie, “It’s not like she needs three or four bedrooms.”

“But what about when her famous mates come to stay? I expected her to be over in Silverwood. Have you seen the houses out there? Man, now there’s some serious cash .”

Adam shook his head. “You don’t get it do you? The whole reason she’s come to university is to feel normal for a while. And how many students do you know that live in Silverwood?”

“Yeah,” said Eddie, “But she ain’t normal is she? She’s a movie star. If I had her kind of money—”

“But you don’t,” said Cassie. “So drop it. And you better behave tonight. Don’t go upsetting her. And certainly don’t refer to her as Not Normal. Or else.”

“Or else what?”

“Try me and find out. I’ve heard men don’t like being kneed in the balls.”

Adam stopped in front of one of the houses. “It’s this one. I think. It was dark last night.”

He put his hand on the gate, but by the time he’d opened it, Chloe had come out of the house. “I saw you coming,” she said. “Not that I was watching and waiting for you. Unless staring out the window every five minutes counts as watching and waiting.” She looked at each of the others in turn as they stared at her. “What? What is it?” She looked down at herself. “It’s my outfit, isn’t it? It’s too flash.”

She wore a sparkly black knee-length skirt and white blouse. “No,” said Adam. “You look... Fantastic.”

“Yeah,” said Cassie. “You look great. Not too flash at all.”

“But you’ve all got jeans on. Should I go and get changed and put some jeans on too?”

“No way,” said Eddie. “We haven’t got the time. The Mariner will be heaving when we get there as it is. If we wait any longer, we’ll not even get through the door.”

The air was chilly and the sky full of thick clouds, but Eddie insisted on walking into town because by the time a taxi arrived, they could already be in the bar drinking their first pint.

This is an even better example of what I'm trying achieve with this second draft. All four characters are added to here, as well a better description of the setting.

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