Sunday, 14 February 2010

NOW THE WORK CAN BEGIN

Right. Some sagacious person said ‘writing is rewriting; another that ‘the first draft of anything is shit’. With that in mind, best get on with it. The next few posts will be devoted to this activity.

For now the manuscript lies on my desk, looking rather impressive, yet it’s only now the proper work begins. Another, nameless I’m afraid, person regarded a first draft analogous with a block of ice, or stone, and as the sculptor, you could now start to chip away, begin to shape it. I like that, apart from writing that first draft was a bit tougher than wheeling in said block.

So where to start?

You’ll have your own approaches, but the goal remains to transform your ms from a muddled, muddied, disjointed, error-strewn, inconsistent, over-written, unsubtle clump of text (albeit one with promise), into something that does it justice. Something resembling a story – one that sings and radiates, giving ethereal pleasure to publishers, agents and readers alike as they drink your beautifully crafted words.

Almost certainly there will be too many words: weak sections that do nothing but kill momentum; Pretty writing, waxing lyrical about something's appearance (usually the weather) - some is fine, but overdo it and you risk literary masturbation; too much philosophising, too much internal monologue, character introspection. But mostly too many adverbs, adjectives. And repetitions. Tautologies too (these especially kill prose for me, and can take a number of forms – one of the most common being speech tags: ‘Piss off,’ said the aggrieved woman). Read your dialogue closely and see if you need to attribute it at all. You can often go pages without a ‘he said, she said’ and not lose the reader. The result is sharper, punchier, more authentic dialogue.

This links nicely to my next point: read your work out loud, into a mirror if you can bear to. Or record it and play it back. You’ll be surprised how different it sounds, how many more mistakes and weak phrases leap out at you. Just because it’s not poetry, doesn’t mean you can neglect rhythm and metre in your writing. If you can, imagine this is the first time you’ve come across the words, and that someone else has written them. How do the words sound in your head now? Is reading it a pleasurable experience? (Probably not if it’s a first draft, but you’ll do this through several drafts, and eventually it will.)

Well, that'll do for starters. Much, much more to follow soon.

12 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Synchronicity, Tom. I started going through my first draft yesterday, finally. Managed 30 pages. Having written it as a series of stories over 3 years, I am going to find many characters have changed their names, swapped partners, addresses, occupations. That the history that links em all has shifted story to story. Its like they are laughing at me. Real belly laughs...

dirtywhitecandy said...

Totally agree that a lot remains to be done once the first draft is finished. Language is definitely one of them, but I don't tackle that until much later. First I check the story events summarising them in a chart I call a beat sheet. I often find a lot of scenes would be better swapped around, or that some hold back the pacing or simply are superfluous. Then I tackle how those individual scenes play - and finally, when I know the story ticks along nicely, I blitz the language.

Helena Halme said...

Oh I've been there. Don't you just wish you could give it to some magical, tidy, talented person who has been sitting in your head for all these months and know what it is you want to say?

Good luck, I'll be coming back with great interest to see how it's going.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Oh, how they laugh, V.

Sounds all good, DWC. I'll talk a bit more about the order I do things next time.

Thanks for stopping by.

Helena Halme said...

See how bad I'm at editing...it should obviously be, 'has been sitting your head and knows...'

TOM J VOWLER said...

I'm sure they'll invent something one day, Helena. Little nanobots (see, tautologies get everywhere), having sat in the brain through the first draft, will be removed and placed in your pc to transform the ms into a final draft, while the writer gets on with the Next Big Project. Or merely buggers off down the pub.

SueG said...

Best of luck with this. I know one of my biggest problems is actually underwriting. If something is too emotionally charged, I'm likely to gloss over it and not dig deeply enough in that first draft. Then the trick becomes being able to see where that's happened. I'm looking forward to reading about your progress.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks, Sue. Good to 'see' you. That's an interesting point. This novel has some, I hope, powerfully charged scenes - some were difficult to research/write - so it'll be interesting to see if I've explored them enough.

And then I'll talk a bit about showing one's baby to someone for its first feedback, a tense time for any writer, I imagine.

Paul said...

Good voyage to you as you embark on the rewrite.

I've found that if I read my text on a different computer in a different location (such as on a library computer) I see embarrassing things I had overlooked in the familiar environment. The change in location seems to bring a change in perspective as well, at least for me.

I look forward to coming posts. (Well, I look forward to all of your posts really.)

TOM J VOWLER said...

That's interesting, Paul. It's amazing no matter how many times I read my ms, I'll miss something. I suppose this is the brain seeing what it expects to see, so your removal of the familiar may be doing the trick.

lbdiamond said...

New things always pop-out with every re-read of a MS.

Interesting, I'm wondering if we're on the same wavelength--I googled do's and don'ts of opening lines, and came across your post. Eerily similar to a post I've been working on. Again, here, I posted a segment on how much writing is like ice sculpting. Weird. :)

TOM J VOWLER said...

Good to see you, ibdiamond. Of course I don't mind you blogging about the same topic.