Week 43

Judi Dench as Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal This week was a little demoralising. I wrote a lot, but realised after about 3,000 words that it wasn't going anywhere and I'd probably end up keeping 300 words out of the whole scene I'd just written, if not cutting it altogether.

I have a tendency to go into horrible detail and describe a scene as much as possible, rather than only fleshing out what needs to be fleshed out for the story. I have an idea for a scene and it quickly devolves into an act of description not narration, adumbrating every detail, change in mood and temperature, a style better suited to a short story than a novel.

I read Notes for a Scandal this week, and was really impressed with how Zoe Heller deals with a narrator who has a limited view of things. Not everything needs to be told. Get to the point. Sometimes Heller's narrator knows a little too much, but that's arguably a desire to embroider the story on her part.

Mine is just prevarication, I think. An unwillingness to get on with the story, because I'm not sure where it's leading. I think the final version of this draft will be full of stops and starts, a mishmash of writing styles and ideas, and probably wildly overlong. I originally anticipated it would eventually be about 100,000 words, but I'm already at 70,000 words and nowhere near three quarters of the way through.

This mass of notes and scenes will need to be distilled. Someone told me a quote about writing that likened it to a sculptor working a block - an image I've used before - but unlike with a sculpture, where a sculptor takes a block and sculpts it, a novelist must first build the block from which he or she sculpts a story. I feel like I'm building that block right now.

I suppose it's better to have too much material that needs to be cut, rather than the opposite. But nevertheless I need to be stricter at keeping to the point (especially in scenes set in the present day, where the narrative will conclude). If the skill in writing comes in the rewrite, then the first draft is about discipline: sitting at a desk every day, and keeping a light hand on the steering wheel. Nothing more than that, but less results in baggy, directionless writing.

I've worried before about the reasons my narrator is telling this story, and once again started thinking about how important their perspective is in how this story should be told.

The main character in Notes on a Scandal, Barbara Covett, uses a foreword to introduce herself and her reasons for writing everything that has happened down.

So I asked myself questions like, when in the present day does the story begin? Why? What's prompted it? How did we get here?

I started writing an introductory scene. It's something I've written before, in pieces here and there while I've struggled to work out the initial scene of the book, and going back to write it possibly contravenes my "don't look back" rule for draft one, but it helped me get back on track. It's where I hear my main character's voice best, it's where she's at her most indignant, because, well she's got some explaining to do.

I then moved on to the stage in the story I'm at - just over half way through - and started writing with that voice in mind.

I vowed once again to stop when I get too bogged down in descriptive detail, and move on. Keep with the story I know - the other bits will sort themselves out as I move forward.

I also decided to stop reading fiction for the time being, after a few conversations with other writers. I hate the idea that to write one must cut down on reading, but maybe it'll only be while I finish the first draft. Reading other people's perfectly crafted prose will be more instructive when it comes to the rewrite. I'll read non-fiction for the time being, perhaps related to my theme, in the hope it'll provide inspiration.

Word count this week: 5,120 Total word count: 80,608 First draft: 70,592