Project #1 – Character Revisions

It’s been a few weeks, so I want to give a little update on what’s been going on with Project #1.

Firstly, it was a very good thing I didn’t share too many details in the first post because, well, there has been a major change. I know I’ve said I enjoy seeing how things change and that’s why I’m doing these updates, but I also want to be semi-in-charge of what I share. If I’m confident I’m calling a character a certain name and I share that, and then I have to change it later for one reason or another, that’s different than me coming back and saying, hey, you know that character I called Matt, he was originally called Martin. Obviously, instances of the former might happen, but in these early stages, this is why it makes sense for me to share fewer concrete details, because, whilst nothing is concrete until it’s published (and even then, there can be an addendum) even less is concrete in early drafts.

So, obviously, I’m not going to share exactly what changed because that goes against everything I’ve just said, but there was a character I had, and she just wasn’t working. There are five protagonists in this story which means five different POVs. It’s one thing for a secondary character to be a bit difficult to work with, needing revision, but it’s another thing entirely for one of the characters whose POV you are going to inhabit being difficult.

You can always tell when something isn’t working. For me, noting something not working is a part of the way I draft, which is obviously different for every writer. If I’m writing, and I can feel it isn’t working, which can happen for any number of reasons from needing more research to a character just not clicking into place, I won’t go back and rework it. Instead, I’ll continue on, either with a bit of research and planning or with placeholders, knowing I will come back to whatever I’m struggling with. Sometimes this means, if I have changed Martin’s name to Matt, in the first ten chapters, he’s still Martin, and then he suddenly changes to Matt.

And that is, sort of, what’s happened. I had a character, and I could feel she wasn’t working. The way I could feel it this time was I just didn’t feel connected to her. The other four characters, I understood, I could connect with them, I could put them in situations and know exactly how they were going to react, what they were going to say, how they would interact with others who were also in the scene. But not her. So, I took a small step back, reworked her, substantially, from name to beliefs to relationships, and then continued on. I didn’t go back and edit what I’d already written, I just continued because, for me, if I went back and just edited what was already done, I would get stuck there.

Obviously, that’s a massive tip that a lot of people give to writers; don’t keep going back and editing, just write, write until you have the first entire draft done, or at least something in that regard. Thankfully, I’ve never found that to be too much of a struggle. I’ve always known that, whatever I’ve written, whether I love it or I hate it, it can always be strengthened in the edit. You cannot edit a blank page, that’s probably some of the strongest advice you can give to a writer who’s struggling with starting. Part of that advice, for me, is, sure, you can edit something you know is going to change in the next draft (say, a character name), but I personally prefer to keep going. It’s much better to edit what’s already there when you’ve got a complete draft than to keep going back through a partial draft and trying to perfect it.

I find it easier when I’ve got a full draft to make changes because I know what it looks like overall. Again, everyone drafts and writes a little differently, but I like to decide some structural elements and plot points as I’m going. I have an overall structure, a chapter-by-chapter plan, but I find it easier to see how things work when I’m in it, when I’m writing the story. So, that’s why, when I note something isn’t working, I make a decision when I’m in it and keep going with that change, knowing I can edit the original when I come back through because continuing with the flow of a story is how I write best.

This is because I’m a big fan of writing, mainly, chronologically. Everyone writes differently, and I do sometimes write out a scene or conversation if I feel an affinity with it in that moment in time, but I like to write chronologically. And what that means for me is placeholders and brackets. I like to work through a story as it unfolds, but, as I’m sure is the case for almost everyone who writes, sometimes you’re in a chapter and you know what needs to happen, but you just can’t manage it in that moment. For me, this includes a bracket with something like (more?) or (Matt and Shaun discuss breakfast) or something along those lines. And I don’t often come back to these brackets until I’m going through the next draft. I am an enormous fan of just writing and going with how the story flows. Sometimes, I might come back and write out whatever I’ve bracketed, but it’s much more common for me to make a note of what needs to go on in this particular moment, and leaving it at that until a later draft.

Because of that, we’re almost at 42,000 words! As I tend to say with these early drafts, they’re 42,000 bad words, or, to be less harsh, 42,000 rough words. Like I just said, I’m able to write and not think about what I’ve just written. Even if I’m writing a sentence I think is abhorrent and horrendous, I know I can strengthen it later, so I don’t immediately revise it, even if I know it is perhaps the worst thing someone’s ever written in the entire history of novels. I write it, tut and scoff at myself, perhaps shake my head and shiver, and then I continue. And that’s how you get to 42,000 rough words, and I’m very happy saying that. Anyone who claims they write a perfect first draft is either a miracle-worker or, more likely, extending the truth. I am happy to admit that some of what I’ve written in this first draft is a touch horrendous, and the grammar might not be perfect, it’s probably awry with typos, and sentences might continue for a hundred words or more. But that’s okay, because it’s an early draft. In fact, it’s the first draft which is even better because you’re allowed to write horribly in early drafts, the first draft in particular.

I also had to sit down and do a lot of research between this update and the last one. Part of this book takes place during a gap year, and whilst some places and countries aren’t gone into in a lot of detail, some of them have a couple of chapters situated there, and that means I need to have a grip on those countries and the touristy things that people do. A lot of this book occurs between the characters, in interactions and conversations and thoughts, but the settings need to be realistic, particularly because this is set in the real world.

All in all, I’ve made a lot of progress. That isn’t to say this is anywhere near being finalised. There’s a lot to go, but in just a few weeks, it’s come a long way, and I think that’s always something to be proud of. These updates will solidify how progress is being made, and I’m excited about that.

I can’t wait to see where I am in the next few weeks, it’s wonderful to see a word count grow, and I’m sure it’s going to be a horrifying job cutting words out, but that’s for later. For me, writing is about what’s going on in that moment. I can edit later, I can cut down later, I can rewrite later. Right now, it’s about writing and getting something down that can be edited, cut down, rewritten, and we’re making great progress.

Robyn x

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