Adventures in Drafting

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a writer, or a stenographer. More often than not, it doesn’t feel like I’m creating anything when I sit down at my keyboard; I just have a window into someone else’s life, and I’m recording it for posterity. It’s a strange, but slightly thrilling, sort of feeling. I’ve felt it before, but not for a while, now. I’ve missed it.

Image: officemuseum.com

Image: officemuseum.com

I am almost 69,000 words into draft 1 of ‘Tider’, and the grand dénouement is not far away. I have plotted, and replotted, and replotted the ending, adjusting every few days as my characters get lairy and unpredictable and start doing things their own way, as they are wont; still, though, they are surprising me by taking the initiative. ‘Step back, puny author,’ they seem to say. ‘We’ve got this.’ Then, I can only watch as they roundhouse kick their way out of every sort of structure and narrative I’d tried to put them in, and my careful planning falls down in a heap around my ears. Really, I don’t know why I bother.

I had reckoned I’d be finished ‘Tider’ about 4,000 words ago, but the story has kept going and there’s a little more that needs to be told yet. I thought I had dispatched a ‘baddie’ quite thoroughly, too, but they reappeared in yesterday’s writing, determined to have one final moment in the limelight. I thought my heroine had faced all the challenges she was to face, but another decided to show up just at the most inopportune moment. Seriously, at times, I feel like I’m wrangling a bunch of monkeys, and they all live inside my head.

How are ya!? Image: sodahead.com

How are ya!?
Image: sodahead.com

My husband got a little worried when I told him ‘Tider’ was refusing to cooperate; I guess he was imagining another 150,000-word beast was about to come spewing out of my fingers again. I hastily reassured him that wasn’t the case. I’m pretty close to the end of this draft. I haven’t reached it yet, but I hope – really hope – that today might be the day. I know there’s huge work left to do on this first draft (it has more holes than a dairy full of Swiss cheese, and it needs more expansion and explanation at the beginning), but I think it’ll be pretty solid by the time I get to type ‘The End’. I’m looking forward to that moment.

I had always imagined ‘Tider’ as a duology, or a trilogy even. Now, I’m hoping it will be a stand-alone novel. In one way, I feel sad that my original dreams for this story are no longer going to come true, but in another I know that the way I’ve written ‘Tider’ now is the way it should have been from the start. This version feels more true, and more satisfying, and I’m much happier with it. I’m finally figuring out that a story doesn’t have to exhaustively detail how every tiny thread pans out; there has to be a satisfactory end to the plot, of course, but a little bit of mystery is okay, too, as is a hint of what might happen to the characters once we’ve finished reading about them. A book isn’t supposed to be a chronicle of a family’s history, a begat-list running to the end of time – it’s supposed to be an episode in that history, a snapshot taken at a crucial moment, or a turning point, or a time of crisis. Once the characters have passed that point of testing, and they’ve come through the crucible in whatever way they can, then the story can end without a reader feeling like they’ve been cheated. I’m not talking about leaving a cliffhanger ending, or deliberately holding back on explaining a plot point for the sake of it – what I mean is, a book can have a ragged, messy, organic ending, a true-to-life ending, and it can be the absolute best note to leave the story on.

That’s what I think, at least.

I also love it (despite all my complaints) when characters come to life and start dictating what they’re going to do. Not only does it make you feel like a real writer, who has created a bunch of ‘real’ people – i.e. characters with their own minds, motivations and aspirations – but it’s also an amazing thing to watch your plot twist and turn upon itself in a way of its own choosing. Of course, I can decide to completely undo it in a subsequent draft, but I feel it’s good to give a story the freedom to develop as it goes. If it’s taking me by surprise, I hope it will take a reader by surprise, too.

Anyway. I have a lot to do today, so I’d best push on and get cracking. The sooner I get this draft done, the sooner I can get to redrafting it, and the sooner I can usher it out into the world. Maybe, one day, other people will even get to read it…

Wouldn't that be *wonderful*, Toto? Image: songbook1.wordpress.com

Wouldn’t that be *wonderful*, Toto?
Image: songbook1.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Drafting

  1. Margaret Grant

    “…ragged, messy, organic ending…” I love it. This is all so well said and very encouraging. I have followed my characters leads and then despaired, “what is this even about?” but they are always right. And it’s funny but when I just let them tell it, I would say that the writing is better than if I am being pushy.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      I’m so glad you found it encouraging! That’s wonderful, Margaret. It’s a shame when we follow each plot thread so exhaustively that we lose sight of the bigger picture, and start getting ourselves tangled up in textual knots. When you get the restless vibe from what you’re writing, and when you know it needs to be allowed its freedom, it’s always better to let it breathe and do its own thing, I think. Thanks for reading, and commenting! 🙂

      Reply

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