Yes! A chapter! A proper chappy-chap-chapter!
After last week’s hesitation I put the plan to one side and opened a document entitled “Chapter 1” and started writing. Given that this is the tenth week of me blogging my progress on writing a novel, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. But it’s not. Not really. I’ve been planning: drawing my plot, developing my “conflict”, charting my characters from date of birth to when they lost their first tooth (okay, not that bit). Noodling, basically.
That’s not to say I’ve given up on the plan. Previous attempts at writing without one just ended up in load of hazy nonsense about feelings and people who open their mouths like fish and then stop and say nothing (I like Henry James, okay? Shoot me).
“Story” comes from the telling, people told me, but after a while I decided that was bollocks, as was anything said by anyone who thought a novel is a “story”. It’s not. A story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it probably takes about, ooh, two hours to tell tops. That's the length of a film. That’s what all these books about storytelling are getting at: let’s be having this, nice and clear, and not too long so we have to find the car in the car park in the dark.
A novel, on the other hand, is a bloody long ramble of a thing that covers a million small events, different viewpoints, peaks, lows. What’s Wuthering Heights about? Some people on a heath - it’s complicated. What’s Vanity Fair about? Well, there’s a woman and… What’s Ulysses about? Oh, don’t. Just don’t.
All these things are suspended at once, and they need thinking about. So I couldn’t have started writing properly without the last few weeks’ worth of planning. It was never comprehensive; there are still huge gaps in my list of scenes, and new ideas come to me as I write that threaten to turn my plan on it head, but I just pin those ideas up on the board with question marks for when I reach that point in the story.
I had thought I might not be able to write the first chapter yet, as it involved something I hadn’t worked out yet, but actually an idea for the first line occurred to me, something my main character would say, clear and direct, and I wrote it down to see where it would lead.
The blinds in the library were drawn and a cold breeze managed to make me forget the sunny scene outside, so I powered on, trying not to tidy the previous sentence or copy and paste too much. After about 1,500 words I started to flag a bit, and my sentences became a bit desultory. I was reminded of Deborah saying many writers can’t write more than about 1,000 words a day. To be honest the idea of a Magnum had been looming pretty large in my mind too, so I gave up, packed up my laptop and headed into town.
I added a few more hundred words today, and have a rough first chapter. It’s too short, it’s a bit shabby and a strange character I wasn’t expecting has appeared and may well be excised from future drafts, but it’s roughly there, and sets up my main character nicely. I didn’t read it through, but added notes to the end of what I thought needed doing, and started another document called “Chapter 2” in preparation for next week.
I've added another tally at the bottom of these posts, as I quite often wrote a lot more than actually goes towards a first draft. Over the last few weeks I've collected bits of writing - descriptive passages, character charts and attempts at scenes - that I’m not sure fit in my story, but I don’t want to throw away just yet. Those will be included in the running total, but progress on the long-form draft which moves from chapter to chapter is recorded at the bottom.
Word count this week: 2,882 Running total: 16,079 First draft: 2,321
PS Really sorry these posts are so long – every week I say I'm going to write a short, snappy one but I always end up going over budget. Next time.