First-draft doubts

I forgot a character for 100 pages. How do you do that? Just completely forget his existence whilst at the same time building for his denouement? Takes a special kind of dysfunction to hold contradictions like that. Fortunately I’m a writer. I’m in a permanent state of dysfunction, capable of believing six impossible things before breakfast.

So, the work-in-progress then. I’ve talked before about how the first draft is essentially a walk-through; a dry run, showing what scenes you need, who’s where and when and how to get from one world to another. For that reason I’ve spent little effort in description or in making the world itself come alive. I’ve been concentrating on where people are at and where they’re going.

I’ve also written a fair bit that will likely be completely cut. It’s one of the perils of this kind of procedure: unless you plan every scene in detail before first setting metaphorical pen to paper you’re likely to write in redundancy and waffle. Similarly, you’ll likely find yourself omitting scenes that, in later drafts, you’ll wonder how you ever did without.

That’s the nature of the game. It’s the nature of my game. And I’m sure you’re there wondering if I’m going to turn round and advocate a more logical, planned approach. Nah. I’m still in the process of discovery: I’m telling myself stories, I’m learning and I’m happy. Even though it can be an absolute pain.

Yesterday I hit the 100,000 word mark, which in itself doesn’t mean much. I’ve always envisioned this novel would weigh in at about 120k: more important is that I’m building up to the final climax, the last battle. I’m at the stage where, having a solid idea of where I want to end up, I’m now in the process of manipulating my characters so they get to the right place at the right time. In this particular case I have to work out how to break into a London police station that’s already on high alert.

Logic moves slowly. Characters are rightly suspicious of manna from heaven; the buggers see traps in everything. To get from one place to another without a massive wrench is a case of a thousand tiny corrections, of a series of decision that all make perfect sense in themselves but inexorably lead my cast to where I want them to be.

Hence these scenes that may well end up being cut. I have to write them. I have to know how this line of reasoning works – or if it simply doesn’t. Even if it all seems like a pointless slog, it’s much easier to write something and later cut it out than to have to go back and insert whole sections. Besides, you never know – and you always hope – that although you’re going through the motions your readers might love the quiet, tension-building scenes as much as the noise. You might just have written something really good, and this is just standard first-draft doubt.

Incidentally, whilst I was lying in bed the other night I suddenly realised that I might want to take out a whole loop of action: around 20,000 words would be erased with just a snap of the fingers. That’s still an option. Every story is about the roads walked: but sometimes the roads you’ve not gone down are the ones that fascinate the most. The road not travelled. And there’s no time better to see those than when you’re first-drafting.

So where goest I now? Well, I go the only way I know and that’s onwards. One foot in front of the other, marching, hobbling, ambling down that road. This isn’t the time to look back, to wonder if there wasn’t a shortcut better taken. It’ll have to be examined later, when I can properly sit back with a map and review all the junctions and signposts and ghost-towns I passed on the way. There are always other options. All those brilliant stories you fell in love with throughout your life? In another world they’d all end differently. Some would be better for it.

Some, of course, would just be a whole lot weirder.

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