Weeks 37, 38

Whoops. Missed last week's update. To be honest I've not written in the past two weeks. I got a bit stuck, and had to spend some time rethinking my story before I could go on.

I'm at least halfway through my first draft, and everything feels in flux - there is so much written, and yet so much to go. I try not to edit while I write the first draft, but it comes together behind me, gathering its scenes and characters together like skirts, a parachute that catches the air behind me and billows, drags me back.

Do I carry on with my original story, knowing it's changed, or do I continue as if I'd written all that I now know leads up to this point?

Even my main character is up for grabs. Last week I wrote something distinctly odd, that made her a lot more disturbing and made me rethink the story, in particular the next bit I'm about to write.

What I'm trying to say is, much as people like Robert McKee or every media commentator at the moment would like you to think, it doesn't feel like I'm in the middle of a "story". Writing a novel - even the first draft, where I'm trying not to think too much, just write - doesn't feel anything like sitting round a fire and telling a story.

There are too many subplots, minor characters and information to get across, it's impossible to get it right first time. I understand now that a "rewrite" is not subbing, crossing out the odd unnecessary word here, or removing an errant apostrophe here. It's rewriting. All this. Again.

I read a quote by Terry Pratchett, about how a first draft is "you telling yourself the story". That feels much more like it. I am constantly in a state of building and rebuilding, switching story cards in my head as I write.

So I decided to take out time and move actual story cards. I took down my old storyboard as my original seven-section structure wasn't working for me. At the end of each section, I felt the story had wound down and I had to wind it back up again for the next "bit". It was a structure I imposed on myself, and I realised I was writing to fill each section regularly, so that each was about as long and dense as the other, and not just writing the story as it happened. When the crisis occurs, and where the first turning point happens, became my obsession. Every book I read, I dissected in my head or notebook: conflict, crisis, climax.

Cork story board

I scrawled scenes in marker pen on cards, not looking at my notes or the outline in Scrivener, but trying to remember scenes, in the hope they would be the most important ones, the ones that progressed the story rather than filled pages.

I then laid them out in order, from start to finish, labelling only "beginning", "middle" and "end" for a bit of colour. They ran left to right, and filled five rows.

Looking at them like that, I had a bit of a breakthrough with my second plot (there are two; one in the past, and one set in the present-day). The scene cards with black borders are that second, present-day plot. I don't want them to act like bookends to a flashback, like the doddery old lady in Titanic. I want them to be threaded in with those from the past, but so far they feel thin in comparison, too close to home and not interesting enough.

Looking at those cards in narrative order though, it became immediately clear what happens towards the end, something that renders everything that's come before questionable, and leads inexorably to the finale I thought of way back in January.

A twist!

Word count this week: 817 Total word count: 69,688 First draft: 59,672