This is a great post by Emma Darwin about that most elusive of things a writer has to capture, 'voice'. (In fact, her whole blog is a treasure trove for the aspiring writer.) The post is particularly apt for me - this week I've spent a lot of time thinking about my narrator's voice, and started 2014, appropriately enough, with an epiphany.
With each successive draft of a my novel, I've got a bit closer: the first was a chance to generate ideas and story lines, the second an overzealous attempt to fuse them into one dramatic narrative, the third a refocusing of the plot and structure. But something was still missing - unlike my first two drafts, I was writing slowly, very deliberately. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing. I seemed to be at the 25,000 word mark for about two months: writing and highlighting and cutting and pasting.
Something was wrong. I had the story down pat (by with I mean I had a spreadsheet detailing what happened in 90 scenes, ordered and reordered according to innumerable story templates), but when I read extracts from earlier drafts, though they led nowhere, I realised the writing was fresher, more vibrant.
In comparison my current draft was... restrained. My story was being narrated from some distance - about 12 years' worth - and what my narrator had gained in wisdom she'd lost in immediacy and emotion.
So on Thursday I found myself scribbling three short sentence summaries of my story: same story, three different ways of telling it.
Without giving too much away, I wrote:
Story is about: - [narrator] reminiscing about [what happens] - [narrator] who [does something difficult to understand] at [the end] - [narrator] who finally [attains her goal] with [mixed blessings]
…and there she was. Fully formed.
I had been working with a thin version of my narrator (the first of those bullet points), who, rather than being a catalyst for events, acted more as a mirror for others. Neither of the other two versions were new, but something clicked when I scribbled them down, and I scribbled down a rough back-of-the-fagpack structure for my book (again, not wildly different, but enough of a shift that other things slotted into place) and found myself writing 500 words in the remaining half an hour I had left in the library. I had written less than that in the previous three hours.
And miracle of miracles, for the first time, I started writing without a plan.