Week 34

Beginning, middle, end This week I wanted not only to get to 50,000 words, my halfway mark for this draft*, but also tie up the third section of seven.

Sections? Yeah, sections. At the moment I don't have chapters, but sections full of documents and scenes that point towards something but don't quite make a whole. Each section represents a mark I want to hit, a point of tension in the plot. I imagine there will be seven, and they follow a pretty standard model:

  1. introduction
  2. conflict emerges
  3. turning point 1
  4. turning point 2
  5. crisis
  6. climax
  7. resolution

I'm not going to stick to these rigidly, but they help with structuring all these bits of writing and scraps of ideas, and hopefully, when I come to smooth those out and form one big, long, sprawling story in the second draft, these seven sections might help with pacing. They're markers for when a few strands of the story need to knit together and produce tension of some sort, a crunch of the gears and an acceleration of the story. I doubt they'll be visible in the final draft. At some point I'll take them out, like the pegs you use to mark out seedlings.

By the end of section three a few developments need to be brought to a head:

  • the protagonist has to realise her mistake and make a decision
  • the plight of secondary character 1 comes to light
  • secondary character 2 needs to be developed in antagonism to SC 1
  • secondary character 3 needs another appearance
  • and all this is seen through the prism of the antagonist

Hardly straightforward.

I can write straightforwardly in the middle or start of a section, without much thought about structure. But as each draws to a close, I need to entwine the story together like strips of pastry, twist it, cut it off. (I think that was a cheese straw metaphor.)

Cheese straws!

It's hard, and I didn't manage it this week. Whoever said a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end didn't know the half of it.

My excuse is, I was a bit ill. Oh, okay, I got stuck. I got distracted, confused, then worried by the progress bar that stayed resolutely on red: only 1100 words done out of a projected 3,000.

Thinking about bringing this section to a close meant I looked at what I'd written previously. As I suspected, Scrivener makes this a little too easy; the file tree is visible in the "binder" on the left-hand side of the main screen.

So what's the damage? I squint at what I've written through the fingers covering my eyes. They are my fingers.

I've got a sprawling introduction, with layers of information (a bit of background info - age, childhood, you know) that need stripping away and tightening. Then the main business of section two - the conflict - emerges a little too subtly at the moment (it's sort of bundled up in family, and those family friends you are forced to grow up with, and needs sharpening). And the first turning point has the pace of a snail conducting a three-point turn, forgetting halfway through and heading for a dandelion leaf instead.

So I cheated. I looked in the dusty old folder called "ideas", started way back in January when I had only the germ of an idea and started writing the first things that came to mind, before I worked on my story's structure, its characters and plot. I thought then I had it nailed - I know now they'll always be a work in progress.

There was some nice pieces of writing there, that still worked in the beginning of my story. I added them, and bang, I was past the halfway mark: 50,000 words. Success. Tinged with regret and guilt. The best kind.

That tactic might have sorted out my word count target, but it did nothing for helping me draw together all those strands. I kinda skirted that. That list of character needs I wrote above makes it seem so straightforward, but all those things need to happen together, at the same time, and collide into something bigger than the sum of its parts.

I've learnt in the past few months that that doesn't happen in the first draft. Thanks are also due to Jack Thorne's comments last week on the failed screenplay that led to him writing The Fades, a new BBC Three drama. Cheers, Jack.

I guess it can only be done the hard way: hammering something out, anything, trying to ignore how terrible it is until a shape emerges.

But 50,000 words! Whoop whoop! (Humour me.)

Word count this week: 3,995 Total word count: 65,952 First draft: 50,949

* About length: when I started this draft, I thought 100,000 words was a likely length, about average for a novel. Now I'm not so sure. I think it might be longer than that. I'm almost 3/7 of the way through the story, so less than halfway.

Wrong turnings

"I think, because of the way I write, I need to have space to make wrong turnings before I know the right turning to take, and Short Stuff and Weird was undoubtedly the wrong turning I needed for The Fades. It's a horribly painful process, based mostly on failure, but as I was saying to my friend the other day, I think writing - or my writing - is mostly about failure. Most days finish with me reading the work I've done and sitting there going 'well, that's a piece of shit'."

- Jack Thorne, writing about his approach to The Fades, a new BBC Three drama