Sunday, 9 January 2011


There's nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.  Though my own attitude to deadlines used to be oh i've still got ages until that needs doing, which would inevitably result in churning out something less than average the night before and foolishly thinking ha, beat you!

I've given myself a deadline for completing the second draft of my novel.  The end of February.  This is based on the length of time it took me to re-draft the prologue and first chapter, and a quick assessment of the amount of work required on the remaining chapters.  In its current shape the book has a prologue and twenty-five chapters.

As i've said, i believe deadlines focus the mind.  But it is important that any deadline is realistic and achieveable.  If i were to set my deadline as the end of January, as great as it would be to have a second draft completed so quickly, I would fail to hit that deadline and that failure would leave me feeling demoralised.

As with writing to a daily word count when compiling the first draft of a novel, it is equally important to know what time will be allotted to the re-writes.  Decide a time frame for each day.  At the moment i aim for two hours every evening, plus two hours on a Saturday and Sunday morning.  With other committments it isn't always possible to give as much time as you might like, so sit down the night before and plan the time in.  Even if it's just twenty minutes on the bus to read through a chapter and make some notes in the margin!  It all counts.

I suppose what i have found is that it is important to keep the story fresh in your mind at this stage; to be as familiar with the plot and characters as you can.  The chapter synopses help with this, but nothing beats doing a bit of work on the novel everyday.  Get immersed in your world and start challenging everything your characters do.  Don't just accept at face value that because you've already written it that's the way it has to be.  If something doesn't sit right then get rid of it.  Don't be precious about losing words, you'll pick them up somewhere else.

I finished the second draft of my first chapter yesterday.  It threw up a really important lesson about having an awareness of the world outside the one you are creating.  i.e. reality.  Somethings have to happen, because if they don't your story will lack credibility.  My protagonist Amy is in her last year at school, and i decided that the story would take place in May.  All very well.  So i wrote a first chapter about Amy in school, attending her lessons, etc, etc, with an important scene that takes place during a Drama lesson. 

Spot the obvious mistake?

May marks the beginning of the exam season in the UK, and by mid May, which is when the story is set, Amy would be on study leave and therefore not required to be in school unless she had an exam to sit.  She most definitely would not have a Drama lesson (unless it was a rehearsal for an exam).  So the chapter as it stood required quite a big re-write.  However i still wanted the action to take place in school.  Amy needed to be in certain places at particular times for the story to make sense further along.  I also wanted to establish Amy's friendship with Jane and i needed a specific setting that was central to the formation of their friendship, a setting in which they could both be themselves.  So i had them meet in the school library for a revision session.

As a consequence i have a much altered chapter one, but much altered for the better.  It leaves me a bit of a headache as far as chapter two is concerned as this chapter is also based around the school day.  But it's a challenge i look forward to, and i've a good idea how i'm going to tackle it.

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