Sunday, 23 January 2011

Break it Down

What have i done this week?  I finally finished Chapter Two.  It's not perfect and it will require more work in the next draft, but it is a vast improvement on draft one and explores the characters as well as pushing the story forward.  Big tick there, and a big sigh of relief.  I thought i'd never escape its clutches!

Work has taken a lot of my energy this week, and i've only managed one session at the gym, which has left me feeling a bit sluggish.  Weeks like this can make writing seem like one extra chore.  Just another thing that MUST be done.  It can be off-putting.

That's why it's important to break everything down.  First of all break down the day into work, well-being and play.  I'm not saying that everybody should make regualr trips to the gym (though it doesn't do any harm), but you should take some time to move your body.  Working all day in an office and then writing all night is a very sedantary lifestyle.  It can also become quite monotonous.  It's easy to say, perhaps not so easy to execute, but find some time to jog, cycle, swim, dance, walk, jump on the Wii Fit, anything that raises the heartbeat for half an hour.  It will break up the day, it will loosen your joints and muscles and it should help to clear your head ready for an onslaught of creativity.

This week i have learnt the importance of breaking down each chapter.  Like the story, each chapter should have a beginning, middle and end, and the same goes for each scene within the chapter.  I've managed to get through Chapter Three at a good pace by breaking it down into individual scenes and then breaking these down into beginning, middle and end.  On each occasion i have asked myself what the purpose of the scene is, how it fits into the plot, how it progresses from problem to resolution, and how it develops the characters.  This has enabled me to make some important decisions, to remove some paragraphs that don't move the story on, and to reshape the scenes so that they have a greater dramatic impact.  It's much easier than reading through a whole chapter and trying to re-write it from the outside.  Break down that wall of text and then start chiselling out those beautiful cherubs.

Next up, Chapter Four.  I will need to pick up the pace if i'm going to hit my deadline of mid-February!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Stuck in the Mud

Chapter Two.  Oh Chapter Two.  It's enough to make me weep.  Not the quality of the writing, but the frustration of not being able to get past it.  It's so crucial to the development of two of the characters and the state of their friendship and what impact that has on the rest of the story that i've been going round in circles trying to find the answer that will unlock the door and allow me to march confidently into Chapter Three.

I think i may have it now.  I think.  But i don't want to say anything in case i frighten it away.  It's so timid and fragile right now.

I tried a couple of techniques to get me back on track.  I tried writing down the things tht needed to happen in the chapter on individual index cards.  But i abandoned that.  I tried sitting in a quiet space and thinking about how the chapter might take shape.  But my mind wandered.  I tried not thinking about it at all, hoping a flash of inspiration would come to me out of the blue.  But then i just forgot what i was meant to be doing altogether.

In the end i simply fell back on route one.  Write something.  Write anything.  I let the character talk to one another, do stuff together, exist, and from that the chapter started to emerge, and the elements of the story that i needed to get across were in amongst all of those words.  I only had to chip away at them and sculpt them into something coherent and palatable.  It's by no means a finished piece, but i am one step closer to progressing to Chapter Three, and hopefully i can still hit my deadline.

When in doubt just write it out!

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.

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Year, New Challenge

And i couldn't think of a better one than writing the second draft of a novel! 

It's 2011 and it could be a great year.  In fact there is a particular thing that will make it a great year for me, but that's a private matter and this is a blog about writing, so...

I had a go at re-writing my prologue.  There were a couple of minor plot points that i wanted to amend so that events further into the book made better sense.  I also wanted to sharpen up the prose and give the opening to the story the right injection of pace.  It took about three hours to re-write and I'm fairly happy with the result.  Of course that is still no guarantee that what i have written will make the final cut, but psychologically it felt like a big step forward!

Later on today i'm going to have a bash at chapter one.  I already know that this is going to look completely different in the second draft.  There are specific things that i want to establish about the protagonist, Amy, and her relationship with her best friend, Jane.  I also want to move the action to a different location, so there is a bit of work to be done.  It will probably take a couple of days, especially with having to go back to work tomorrow!

You know, another of the great things about this blog (for me) is that i can write about the things that i intend to do, such as the changes to chapter one above, and if i forget what i'm meant to be doing i have an account of it all here.  There's no escape!  In fact it's going to be really useful as a guide.

Before i go, one other thing to impart is that i have started a completely new document for version 2 of the novel.  I'll cut a chapter from version 1, paste it into v2, rework it and then save it as v2.  That way i won't be overwriting the original document, which for me would get too confusing.