Falling In Love- A Writers Relationship With Their Words
Falling In Love With The First Draft
I have been thinking a lot about first drafts. Few things compare to the initial blind affection that writers almost universally feel for a completed first draft. Yet more important for the aspiring writer is recognising the changes, be they simply proof reading or more substantive story editing, that are needed to turn first drafts from raw product into a polished story which readers don't just want to read, but are happy to pay to read.
My own experiences have demonstrated to me that many writers seem to have an obsession with first drafts and a deep and abiding dread of revision and editing. If you think about it this is more than a little strange. Re-drafting is the part that makes us appreciate our own characters more, it is where we argue with our favourite creations, suffer great tragedies when we realise that the plot is twisting them into something else, or get blessed by wondrous epiphanies when plot and character move in sync to make our story a little more real. Writing is a little like a relationship with all the same highs and lows that can be found (and often the same amount of dysfunction).
There is no doubt that to most of us the first draft is the most exciting. It is where ideas spurt out and a story begins to take form. Characters who have been hovering in your subconscious suddenly walk onto the paper (or screen) and you feel you are starting to get to know them in a tangible way. The first draft is the honeymoon period of the relationship and for many writers, would be Casanova’s, it ends there (and sometimes you only get a one night stand – the unfinished first draft). The writer has enjoyed the exciting first weeks of the relationship and once the passion fades they look for pastures new, never returning to the draft and eventually they forget about it, leaving it forever unpublished.
Ediit, edit, edit...
In the Words of Rusch
When I write fiction, I am constantly struggling to improve my craft enough to get what’s in my head on the page, every single time.
Failure is an option. If the manuscript doesn’t work, I redraft—in other words, I throw out everything I did and try again. Yes, that means I write sometimes two or three times more material than the readers will see in print. And yes, that means I sometimes toss out more material than I publish.
I figure it’s the price I pay to tell the story I want to tell.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch - taken from The Business Rusch - Where Art Meets Commerce
Love Those Words
Those writers who can commit a little more long term get to the stage where they can see things that need working on, the writing equivalent of the partner who leaves the toilet seat up or who is too clingy (remember, never be precious over your words, if it doesn’t work - cut it!). You see plot holes, character inconsistencies and you can go to work tweaking the story. Looking deeper, you see sentences which are working too hard or, worse still, not working at all. Some of these sentences you love dearly but you know that change is needed, like when you want to sit up late at night in your underpants watching ‘b’ movies but your new live-in partner has work in the morning and needs to be fresh for the big meeting. You need to change your ways. Editing is like that, but with words.
Over time in a relationship both parties change and, again, this is the same with editing. As you make changes to your work it changes but also it gives you new ideas and new directions – the product when you are finished may not resemble the initial idea in anything other than concept. Yet you will be content with it. You will still see things that you want to change but you will reach a point where you no longer feel the need to change anything - it may not be perfect but it works.
And finally, after many trials and tribulations and no few tears, you will be ready to settle down properly and send it to a publisher (or get married if we are going to carry on the metaphor) hoping that the work has what it takes to pass the test of time and get turned into print.
Editing, like relationships, is hard work but usually you get out what you put into it. The more time you are prepared to spend on your work the better it is likely to be.
Usually when I write about writing I like to use an example and this is no different, although it took some time for me to find a first draft that I am both happy to share and which I know I have finished with, but the following story is going to be part of an anthology I am publishing later this year (provisionally, I have only wrote half the stories so far).
The other thing is the story has moved on quite a lot. I actually only wrote this originally to give me a backstory for a character I wanted to use as an anti-hero in a children’s tale but I ended up loving the character that much that I am using him in a new story universe I am creating.
Please feel free to use the following story for a discussion of how you would change things and to highlight the flaws that you spot. Use it to practice your editing eye without having to worry about your own precious words – just drop a comment on what you would change.
The Birth of Spring-Heeled Jack
Jack was starving. Jack’s entire family were starving. That was why he was following a scrawny wild goat through the woods. His home-spun clothing was already torn and tattered, so he paid no heed to the brambles as they clawed at the coarse materials. He was careful not to let the rags wrapping his feet land in any of the dank muddy patches that were scattered about the dense foliage.
As he travelled he kept a good distance between himself and the goat; goats, like foxes, stoats and weasels, had magic and unusual intelligence. If it realised he was following it could curse him, or simply whisk itself away in a burst of purple smoke (Jack was unaware that purple smoke was reserved entirely for summoning).
His father had told him a story once of a hunter who caught an enchanted fox in his snares.
He had only been expecting to find some unprotected wild mushrooms, or maybe blackberries, but he had sharpened a piece of flint and tied it to a piece of deadwood before he left home. It always paid to be prepared when it cost nothing.
He had been trailing it carefully for three hours, nearly losing it twice in heavy brambles, when it stopped in a clearing. The goat was agitated and seemed reluctant to step any further.
A Factual Aside
In 1877 Spring-Heeled Jack was spotted at night leaping across canals in Netherton, part of the Black Country region of England.
Upon investigation it turned out to be local man Joseph Darby practicing spring jumping at night wearing a pit helmet by jumping across the canals. His training regime worked as he went on to be world spring jumping champion.
Jack was only a few paces behind the goat now, and he looked to see what could be causing a creature of magic to hesitate. All he could see was a single bifurcated tree in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by a ring of white flowers. He could see nothing to make the goat hesitate and the gnawing hunger made further caution impossible.
Jack stepped forward and hurled his makeshift spear at the goat. The goat sensed the danger, but too late, the spear stuck between the goats’ ribs as it tried to flee. The goat didn’t fall immediately and ran straight for the centre of the split tree. Jack, seeing weeks’ meals fleeing, chased without thought.
As the goat ran between the split trunk of the tree the shaft of the make-shift spear bounced off the left hand side of the fork and was pulled clear of the goats flank. It screamed and there was a flash of light. Jack was temporarily blinded by the flash and so didn’t notice the goat was no longer there. He continued in a straight line, and there was a second flash as he stumbled between the trunks.
Before his sight had been lost he hadn’t noticed the familiar odours around him, the smell of living wood, the crystalline freshness of water running, the musky life of animals playing; he hadn’t noticed the vitality until it was taken from him.
After the second flash, which had left him more disorientated, what he noticed straight away was a smell he could only describe as smog. It reminded Jack of a time when the hut of one of the village elders had caught fire, the dried wood had burned and smouldered for two days and nobody could get near the thick plumes smoke. The air here was just as heavy but did not feel organic, almost as if the fuel had never been cut from a tree, but Jack knew that couldn’t be right. Not only that, but the taste of the air here was old, constant, the wind didn’t blow occasional hint of fresh blossoms or the familiar scent of ferns and brambles. All that he could taste was the smog.
His eyes started to recover almost as soon as the second flash had disappeared, but all he could see initially were grey outlines ahead of him. With his sight so unreliable he focused on what he could hear, trying to tell which way the goat was heading by listening for his passage through the undergrowth that was ahead.
He shook his head hoping to clear it. All around him was a cacophony of banging and grinding. He could hear horses neighing and trotting on dried dirt, but they didn’t seem to be getting further away. After a few seconds he heard a scream like a frog that had been caught by a cat, but it seemed to be coming from the top of one of the shadows in front of him. Between Jack and the squealing frog was the slow and steady slapping of a cloven hoof on smooth rock, but he had seen no rock before he went through the tree.
With his senses so confused Jack decided the best course of action was to wait where he was while his vision cleared. The squealing frog stopped, but then came back again and stopped at regular intervals. The sound of cloven hooves disappeared with a sound like a sack of fruit being dropped onto the feasting stone back home. The grindings reminded him of his mother working with the pestle and mortar to grind up small amounts of seeds to season sweetmeats, but the noise here seemed to fill everything.
He began to choke on the smog he could almost chew, but his vision was clearing now. All he wanted to do was find the goat and take it home so they could eat, the feasting stone hadn’t been polished since before the winter and the mid-summer festival was fast approaching with the store caves still bare.
After an eternity his vision cleared and he saw the goat, barely breathing, in front of him, lying on a path of strangely regular pebbles and polished stones that were stuck into the ground. The huts were all straight lines and seemed to be covered in black ash. A few of them didn’t seem complete, they had no thatch and there was some kind of platform next to the unfinished structures. Strangely these huts were a different colour than the others; clay red instead of black, and they had piles of little red rectangular blocks next to them. Each of the finished huts was belching out clouds of black smoke, and as he looked around he could see countless spires of smoke rising into the sky.
He could see the horses now, strangely stunted shaggy creatures that were tied to a great wheel which they were turning and turning endlessly. The wheel seemed to be linked to a giant pestle which was crushing more grain than he had seen in his life.
The squealing noise was coming from an open hut behind him, and with it came great flows of heat like the smith back home, but this was as if Welund Smith himself had returned from the other-land to forge thunder iron for Woden. The frog squeal came from the smithy too each time a huge leather bag compressed to the side of the building.
Such was the wonder of everything that Jack could see that he didn’t immediately realise that this was not the same place he had been before the flashes of light. He ran to the goat to claim his prize, his family still needed to eat, and seeing it still breathed he apologised and promised to kill it cleanly when he got back home.
The tree was still there, along with the goat it was the only thing that was familiar, and he reasoned that if the tree bought him here it would take him home. He gathered the goat up, it was much lighter than he expected, and carried it towards the forked tree.
As he approached he noticed that each trunk was twisted inwards, and he was worried that the gate was closing. He rushed towards it and as he did the goat got lighter and started laughing. The gap between the forks was shrinking as the trunks twisted tighter together.
When he got to the gap he barely fit through, his shoulders touched either side and he got stuck. The goat really didn’t weigh anything now, he went to drop it thinking that it would help him squeeze through, but the goat had gone. The tree twisted again and he thought he saw a branch blend into his shoulder.
He tried to scream, but as he did all that came out of his mouth was a gruff, laughing voice saying “Welcome to Careless Green, welcome to our new home.”
How Many Drafts Do You Complete On Average:
Thank You For Reading
Thank you for reading and remember, please feel free to edit this story to death. :)