Friday, 2 November 2012

The delights of the second draft

Right now I'm 13,624 words into the second draft of The Frozen Tear, originally my NaNo 2010 novel and now once again a NaNo project. It was my first ever completed draft and I was so proud of it that I actually gave it to my parents to read. They said it needed work... as in the kind of 'work' that would make it about three or four times its original length. I said "yeah, okay, so I'll turn it into a trilogy". Then I sat on it for two years and wrote a whole lot of other stuff.

In those two years I attempted a second draft of something on three occasions. The first one I quit about 2,000 words in. The second was basically writing the whole thing again, only in first person. It involved very little in the way of actual plot changes, but it went all right and a few things I'm going to keep crept in there anyway. The third was actually planned out in advance and also ended up being abandoned. Wrong story, wrong plan.

What happens is that you have this draft sitting there and through the rose-coloured glasses of time you remember it being a pretty good story, but you have this idea about how to make it heaps better. You pick it up to read through it and to your horror you realise that giving yourself permission to write crap resulted in...

Yep: crap.

That's not a bad thing, though. The crap first draft is a necessary part of the evolution from idea to book. If you have a crap first draft, it means you've passed through the first gateway

So anyway, the first draft of The Frozen Tear was crap and my goal from September to December this year has been to figure out a way to make it less crap. I did somewhere around 50,000 words of planning - scene descriptions, character analysis, world-building and a lot of general brainstorming. Then on October 12th I started writing.

It was still crap. I'd gone the wrong direction. When I tried to explain the plot I still didn't have one. Therefore, it was back to the drawing board.

More planning. I realised that I was going to have to just answer "Yes" when people asked me if I was a planner or a pantser. Someone with an entire NaNo-novel worth of planning words earns the right to make a smart-alec response to that question. But... I finally had a concept that seemed like it was going to work and on October 30th I started writing again.

Sounds like I'm doing great, doesn't it? I have a workable concept, I'm succeeding at my NaNoWriMo rebellion and all is good with the world. The fact that i just reached for the sarcasm button would seem to indicate that 'doing great' is not where I'm going with this post.

The thing is, all this is properly terrifying. People talk about notes and plans 'chewing the creativity out of the story', but imagine having 50,000 words of notes sitting there and all you can think is that in real life they tell you nothing. This is new territory for me and I have no idea how to deal with it. I no longer have the freedom to just send the characters off on a tangent involving axe-wielding psychopaths, because the story has a direction.

None of this should scare me. Writing a second draft should be easier than writing a first draft, because now I have a map. I understand a lot more about who the characters are and what they want. I know where they're going and even have a rough idea how they're supposed to get there. This should make the experience less frightening than the breakneck race to the finish that was the original NaNo draft. That's how it works, isn't it?

Apparently not. It seems 'writing a novel' is just going to be terrifying from start to finish.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, it is scary every step of the way. It is scary when you fly by the seat of your pants, and it is scary when you plan, and have a direction. It is scary when characters derail your plan, and it is scary when everything falls into place, and yet nothing looks right.

    I am almost starting to think that if it is not scary, then you're not doing it right.