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.

Week 33

This week has all been about Scrivener: setting it up, importing my work so far, even going through the tutorial (never done that for software before - next I'll be reading an instruction manual).

The important thing about Scrivener is it's built by someone who a) can code and b) writes. Not a frequent combination. It does everything you want it to do - you can write in full screen, write a synopsis and notes alongside each document, count words and paperback pages (I've got 138 so far!), navigate sections by keywords and labels, and it gives you a overview of all your documents, as both a folder explorer and a corkboard.

I'm using the novel setting, so can't speak for how it works with scripts and other forms of writing, but in short, it's awesome. Just writing my name and the title of my book on the title page made me sack off the rest of the day, so pleased was I with the results.

[redacted] by Kat Sommers

Done! Royalties please.

The only problem is there's a niggling feeling that I'm cheating. When I was university it wasn't until my final year that I started writing essays longform; until then, I wrote them all on my computer. Until I wrote out essays with a pen from start to finish, every argument felt like the result not of lucid reasoning but of an elaborate cut and paste job.

And here it is again - that paranoia that breaking everything up into bits, shuffling them around a board and stringing them together is somehow less honest. Less authentic. Requires less artistry. Basically every step away from a parchment and quill makes me feel like a fraud.

I'm also a little worried that having constant access to an overview of my work will encourage me to fiddle with the structure (which I could do, and think about, for the rest of my life if I didn't stop and force myself to look at the blinking cursor on the blank page). But so far it's working, and writing feels simpler and more comfortable than in Word.

I can see how much I've written and how it fits with other pieces, and though it's a bit of a mess, there's something like a story emerging behind me as I go, there's fragments I know I can expand on as well as great swathes of crap, and seeing those keep me going.

Word count this week: 2,710 Total word count: 64,852 First draft: 46,954

Week 32

Head down this week. No distractions. Except the washing, checking my phone for emails, seeing who’s making that noise outside, boiling the kettle, getting one last biscuit. Frequently reconsidered buying a seatbelt that keeps me strapped to my chair.

I let go of one scene that was dwindling, and started on the next, which, after being inspired by Moon Tiger last week, I wrote in fits and starts, moving from one viewpoint to another, from one point in time to another. The result was more associative, but also, I hope, a little leaner.

It was certainly easier to write, and gave me a way of dropping sequences as soon as they were finished, not trying to string them together in one whole narrative. It also meant some interesting echoes occurred between scenes, especially between scenes that crossed time now that they nestled up against each other, rather than alternating with leaden stylistic pace every chapter.

This way of writing fastens them together, so what happened 15 years ago has some significance to what's happening right now, and led me to hope both stories reach their climax, er, simultaneously, so to speak. That thought reminded me of The Hours and its treatment of different narrative strands across time and space, and my earlier enthusiasm faded somewhat.

God I hate The Hours.

I was also aware of mixing tenses and getting sequences muddled, but I preferred to carry on writing and get the ideas down as they came.

This approach also let me include more of the lesser characters, though still not enough. I am preoccupied first and foremost with the core story, which lies with the two main characters, but am aware this means I'm neglecting the other characters, and their crucial role in the development of the my protagonist.

This is something I’m hoping I can fix in the second draft. Right now it’s more important I get that story between the two main characters right (well, one character and... no, you’ll have to read it. Ask me in 2013 for a copy of the manuscript. No, 2014.).

Otherwise I’ve been fiddling with Scrivener, the Windows beta I’ve only got access to until the 30th September. I’m not sure if that’s just the duration of my test period, or if that’s when the beta is due to end for everyone, but it gives me just under a month to try out the software and decide whether it’s forking out for. It also adds to my list of reasons for buying a Macbook Air, the cons for which are wireless connectivity (my Dell stopped being able to connect to my router inexplicably a few months ago, and it has been a godsend), cost, and outrageous delinquency. (The pros are BECAUSE I WANT ONE.)

So far I’ve read the tutorial only, but it seems to be exactly what I’m after, and particularly useful when you’re battling with a first draft, and the attendant notes and disordered thinking.

It seems to suit my way of writing too, providing a way to switch from full-screen to overview seamlessly. I never feel very settled with one for long.

Next week I’ll start putting the scraps of writing in multiple Word docs into a Scrivener project file. I hope that it proves useful, and isn’t just another creative way of wasting time.

Word count this week: 4,201 Total word count: 62,142 First draft: 44,348