Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chapter 5, 10k

I have now written the first five chapters of the second draft, coming in at about 10k words. I covered the first step of my outline in the first three chapters, which ran about 6k words instead of 10k words as in the first draft.

This makes me happy. It's what I was shooting for the first time through, but things just ran long all the time. I'm leaving stuff out now, focusing on keeping what's most important. The result is a story that moves forward much more directly, with more momentum and continuity. It's tigher, leaner.

Regarding the "stuff" from my previous posting: I ended up moving most of it to an "outtakes" file and completely rewriting these chapters. It's worth it to take the time to get it right, especially at the beginning, the foundation of the story. Wasn't difficult, and successive versions improved naturally. One new chapter was amazingly solid the first time through. I definitely see where keeping at it is helping me over time to become a better writer. I know I can write, but my skills are continually sharpening. The more I practice the particular style I am using, the more natural it becomes (more about that in a later blog posting).

I'll have to rethink things a few times along the way, I'm sure, since I'm skipping scenes, consolidating them, and sometimes shuffling them around. This is not a major change to the story, just a refocusing, a narrowing of purpose. It's good to do this, the results are positive. I'm connecting with the "dramatic need" and the internal plot as well. I may change some chapters, or rewrite a bit of the new stuff, to redistribute the load between scenes/chapters, if I misjudge. Want to keep it in balance, moving forward plot point by plot point, without spending too much time on any one event.

I'm not limiting myself to simply retelling what I wrote in the first draft. The basic story will be the same, with a revised and improved ending. What is different this time is I am allowing myself to truly rewrite scenes, to reimagine them, to use a new take on them that might work better. I am drawing out differences between characters, heightening the pressures at work that are bearing down on the main character already at the beginning of the story. I am seeking ways to be more dramatic, or subtle, as the case may be, whatever will help convey the story and involve the Reader.

One example of this is one of the principal characters, a woman we meet early on in the novel who is of lasting importance (she reappears several times throughout the story). I am experimenting with a new way of depicting her, quite different from the way she appeared in the first draft. She is much more intense now, and quirky. Much more interesting and mysterious. She is also less friendly, more distant, and possibly scary. This is a great new development because it will heighten the suspense in some later scenes when other characters are present, and help provide a better basis for how the main character interacts with her later. It has even prompted me to rethink her involvement in some later scenes. That's not good, if my rewrite has me rethinking too much! However, this change would be significant but easy to integrate, so it doesn't put me off. Her attitude change has helped bring several pieces together more tightly, so I am happy however it turns out with her later role.

Another new development is taking more time for the main character to interact with his love interest. These interactions did not reveal enough of the love interest's personality in the first draft. It's important to know who this person is, and why the main character is so interested in this relationship, and why the obstacles to the relationship matter and are not easy to overcome. Getting to know the love interest better is a big plus in this second draft.

This same thing is happening with other characters as well. They are getting more meaningful interaction with the main character, and their personalities and motivations are much clearer now, more apparent. I chose to dramatize some interactions that were only exposition in the first draft, allowing characters to speak for themselves about what turn out to be key points.

This fluidity is important. "The story's the thing." How can I best tell this story? Again, the idea of successive layers, but not in the story, in my own understanding of it. Each time through I learn more, can do more with it. The story evolves as my understanding of it evolves. I am getting much closer now to what will be the final version. I don't know when that will be, after this draft plus editing, or after another complete draft, but I can see light at thd end of the tunnel, a sense of what this will look like when it's finished. It will be tight, and the characters will be well drawn. They will be distinct, three dimensional, vivid, memorable.

Back to work!



Susan Flemming said...

Hi Adrian,

It was interesting to read about how you are rediscovering and deepening your story as you do the edit.

I really like the characters in my current WIP but I've been working on the book for so long there are times when I wonder if I'm ever going to finish and by the time I do, if I'm going to still love my characters enough to want to spend months more with them in edits.

So it was also good to read that you still feel so captivated by your characters.

Once again you've provided an informative and encouraging post.

Adrian Swift said...

I know what you mean. I have to use care that I don't burn out on the story or the characters, too.

I just try to focus on why this story matters, why it is interesting and important. I try to lose myself in the joy of it, the romance of it, speaking of the story as a whole.

I am concerned that after a major draft I'll be too burned out on things to want to do yet more, but that's what breaks are for, and then we can get back to work refreshed and renewed.

Yes, the characters really are interesting. There is a lot of drama there, and tension, and I am still opening up to it, exploring, learning more. The more I know the story, the more of a footing I have to explore it. I know the outcome, the bottom line in plot terms, but it's about more than that -- it's about the journey itself, the process of exploring, experiencing things first-hand through the characters' eyes, understanding why things matter to them.

I remember how I used to watch Star Trek as a kid (the original series). It didn't matter how many times I'd seen the episodes: I could always watch them again as if for the first time. I'd just block out the fact that I'd seen them before and enjoy watching them solely on the basis of what had just happened, what I knew as of that point in the story (my writer's mind at work even then!).

It just takes focus, and opening the heart to what matters about the story.

And not overdoing it.

Thanks for droppying by, Susan! Best wishes for your own projects.