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Sunday, 3 March 2019

First drafts

Ellie de Lacy's miniature books. Pic Rob Tysall.
We all want our written work to be word perfect, but that comes with re-writing, honing, polishing and editing. Some writers like to get every sentence perfected before moving on to the next, others just rattle away getting their thoughts down to work on them later.

There’s no right or wrong method. Whatever works best for you. Also, you might vary your methods depending on what you’re writing.

It’s worth knowing that sometimes it’s not until you get well into your story or novel that you realise what it is you’ve been trying to say. And if you've been spending months labouring over getting early chapters word perfect, you may realise that much of this will have to be changed, deleted, added to, or moved elsewhere. So, all that time trying to make it word perfect has been wasted.

Additionally, if you’ve sweated blood over every word and sentence, you might be a bit precious about what you've written and be reluctant to change it, even when you know you need to. So, remind yourself that the first draft is for your eyes only.

It's hard to write perfect prose straight off. Far easier to rattle out the story, skipping through the areas you don't yet know, or still have to research. Don't let gaps in your knowledge delay your writing and hold you up. It doesn't matter if your entire manuscript is littered with reminders to yourself to 'find out'. The important thing is to get your story written - and then perfect it.

Saying that, we all work differently. Some writers plan meticulously, others write ‘by the seat of their pants’. You might do a bit of both – which tends to be how I write. Very often, once I’ve had an idea for a story, I have to start writing it. Thousands of ‘first draft’ words may get written before I realise I actually need to plan. The story may be becoming more complex, characters need stronger back stories, maybe the storyline is wavering or losing focus.

If this happens to you, then a bullet point plot may be a good idea. You could even envisage how the ending might be and work backwards. The thing with plotting, whether you plot before you make a start, or halfway through writing, nothing is written in stone. You can change whatever you like, whenever you like.

You're not writing in stone.

 Writers plot and plan in all different ways, here’s a few ideas, you may have a totally different method.
·         Bullet point lists
·         A numbered list, say 1-50, then slot in major scenes roughly where they should come in the great scheme of things.
·         A chart, digital or on paper, using colours to indicate the rising and falling of drama or emotion.
·         A chart showing how different character’s stories are entwining.
·         Post-it notes – nice and easy to move around.
·         Write a detailed synopsis for your eyes only. (An edited version might come in handy for when you’re submitting the finished book to a publisher!)
·         A list of characters showing their appearance, personality, background etc.
·         A timeline – useful whether you’re writing a saga covering years, or just a fleeting moment. (Hint and a bit of a spoiler – read the classic Pincher Martin by William Golding)

Reasons to plot and plan
·         I’m sure even writers who say they never plot, actually do, even if only in their head.
·         Don’t be afraid to plot and plan – you can change things as you go. It’s not written in stone.
·         Plotting can help you avoid writers block.
·         Planning helps you to avoid writing yourself into a dead end.
·         Plotting can show you the whole arc of your story.
·         By planning you can see the high and low spots of a story.
·         Plotting will show if the drama is continually rising.
·         Plotting and planning helps you get the pace of the story how you want it.
·         Plotting and planning helps you identify likely problems.

Plotter or a planner, that first draft has to get written. Someone once said: "You can't edit a blank page." So what are you - plotter or pantza?

Happy writing, more writing tips next Sunday. 

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