Thursday, 27 March 2014

The First Draft is Always Shit

The purpose of the first draft is to get stuff out of your head and into words.

Hopefully, after planning in so much detail, you will avoid extensive re-writes because you will have a (sometimes vague) idea of where the story is going and who is telling it.

BUT: Don't expect great things from your first draft.

My First Draft Process

  1. Every day I write something new.
  2. First draft stuff is written early in the day, when I'm still feeling creative.
  3. I have a word target. I do not get up from my chair until I reach this target. It might be 500 words, it might be 2000, but whatever it is, I keep going until I'm there.
  4. I begin by reviewing what I wrote the day before.  But I try not to edit it too much, otherwise I get stuck in Edit Mode. There's a big difference between Edit and Create.
  5. Once I reach my word target, if I'm in the zone, I keep going. (If I'm not, I go for a walk. I find walking clears away the cobwebs, helps me think knotty issues through.)
  6. Every day, I tell myself 'well done'.
  7. Repeat this process until finished.

And I DO NOT get worked up over what is happening until the story is finished.
Worrying about plot holes is a sure fire way to procrastinate.

Something like Nanowrimo can help - the way you get a little graph at the end of the day is quite cool. Plus, its nice to feel you're not alone.

Of course, this is all wonderful stuff. I break my rules all the time.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Voice

I'd like to issue a big apology to those of you reading this from Goodreads. There seems to be some sort of a glitch with the images. I have tried to change it, but seems as though the blogger platform is just the way it is...

Anyway, this week's post is on Voice.

So: Here is where we are:
- you have the idea for your story
- you have your basic plot outlined
- you know your characters
- you know which of them (if any) will narrate the story.


The last thing you need to know is - how will the story be told.

I am calling this Voice. Some people say 'first person' or 'third person'. But here's a lot more to story-telling than just point of view.

To me, Voice is what makes a story come alive. It's when you believe in the character so absolutely that you fall in love.  It's more than the point of view (POV); it's the tone of the whole story.

Examples of Great Voice

  • Harry Potter 
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. 
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • How We Live Now
  • Lolita
  • The Fault in Our Stars

Techniques for Developing Voice

Point of View

Write a few paragraphs as first person, a few as third person. What works best? What makes the story come alive? For example, when I wrote A Necklace of Souls, I started writing Will's section as a third person and it just ....worked. So I stuck with it. Dana's sections, on the other hand, are in first person.


Write a few paragraphs in past tense (he said) and a few in present (he says). (Future rarely works but I suppose if you're being creative you could try it!)

Present tense gives a sense of immediacy to the story, as though the character is right there, in the moment. It's used in The Hunger Games to great effect.

Past tense is more suited to a narrative style, and I think it's easier to sustain the reader's interest, because sometimes present can grate.


Think about the dialogue of your characters. How do they talk to each other.

If your character is a young child, they will have a more limited vocabulary than say, a university professor.

Use words that reflect the personality of the narrator. In Curious Incident, the narrator is an autistic boy - so Haddon uses concrete language, expressed in plain terms.

And, as always in writing, try and avoid passive nouns: 'had', 'was', 'were'. They slow the story.

Next week, we'll hopefully start actually writing.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The First Draft

This post is about starting your first draft.

Summary of where we're up to:
You have your idea.
You know your characters
You have planned your story

Now, it's time to write. So exciting.

The first thing you need to consider is:

In other words, is the story narrated by:

  • One character
  • Multiple characters
  • Someone else

There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.

One Character

If you tell the story through one person's point of view (notice I'm not talking about first person or third person here, I'm only thinking point of view) then you can only have things that this person knows.  So he or she can't express thoughts and opinions of another character (unless, I suppose, they have telepathic powers). And they can't see things in another room, another country, another world unless someone tells them.

One character's point of view is limiting.  However, it is powerful - the reader begins to identify deeply with the character.

Multiple Characters

In my book, A Necklace of Souls, I got around the single-character limitation by having two persons telling the story. Dana, the heroine, as first person (the I-voice) and Will, the hero, in the third person limited (the he-voice).  I told the story using two character's perspectives.

If you write your story with multiple characters as narrators you have an advantage of the story not being limited to one place or one perspective. However, there are disadvantages with this technique:

  • It can be confusing to the reader, especially if the perspectives jump around too much
  • Multiple narrators may slow the plot development.
  • The voices of the characters need to be very different, so technically it can be tricky. Your narrators are supposed to be different people, so they shouldn't have the same beliefs, syntax or sentence structures.

This is one of the reason I chunked the points of view - only one narrator per chapter. Now there's disadvantages to this technique, too. Have you read Breaking Dawn, the last book in the Twilight series? I hated Jake. Absolutely hated him. (Sorry, Jake. nothing personal, honestly) But I loved Bella. So I skimmed all of the Jake chapters.

This, to me, is the main difficulty with multiple narrators - the reader might hate one of them!

External Narrator

Finally, there's the narrator who stands outside the story, and knows everything about everyone.  This is a very traditional fairy-tale story-telling technique, and its often used in film making, because in film its hard to get into the character's heads.

However, for fiction writing its a nightmare, because it is so distancing.  Neil Gaiman uses this technique in Neverwhere. Gaiman is such an amazing writer - he slides around, moving from omniscient narrator to character narration, blurring the boundaries seamlessly.

Omniscient narration does have one great advantage - it allows the writer to make ironic comments about the characters. This can add an awful lot of humour to a story. Jane Austen used this technique very successfully - when talking of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice: 'The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.'

Confused? Thinking, so what should I do? 

This is what I do: I write a paragraph or a page first as one character, then as multiple characters, then as an external narrator.  It takes time, but believe me, its worth it. Your narrator makes (or breaks) the story.