Work on draft two of my first serious attempt at long form fiction starts on New Years Day 2018.
I’ve tried to absorb all the helpful prose writing tips I can find.
I’ve scoured the net, picked writer friends’ brains, been to a conference and come up with 6 key rules I want to stick to, both with this long story and the next long story in the pipeline.
In a years time I’ll measure success.
Leave the first draft for two to four weeks before returning to it with a fresh eye.
This was very hard to do but I can see the value in opening up the hard copy for the first time in 21 days, on January 1st.
During this hiatus, plot and character holes have become clear in dreams, while walking and when reading and watching comparative genre fiction and drama.
Write a one page synopsis of the first draft.
I had a rough shape in my head before writing draft 1.
I knew my principal characters, what would happen to them and how the story ended.
I’d sketch notes for each ‘block’ of action (about 4-6 chapters) but didn’t want to be bound to a rigid outline, I needed some creative slack, to go with the flow of my people and places as they appeared.
However immediately post draft 1 writing a synopsis offered a great snapshot of the structure and shone a light on some creaky scaffolding.
The synopsis showed that the arc of the story and the shape (point of attack, rising and falling action, climax and twist) were OK but it also highlighted some character inconsistencies, offered clarity around the themes I’m shooting for and flagged a section which needs cutting.
I can’t wait to make the changes.
Read a lot of books.
I’m currently looking at Paul Auster, Anthony Horowitz, Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler and a doorstep of contemporary writers in the genre I’m writing in.
Long stories take a long time to write. Keep going.
As a dramatist I white heat the first draft of a play. Ten days feels like a long time to spend inside two hours of stage time.
It took a year and a half to write this first long story draft. I had other, consuming, work to do. I had to keep stopping to do the other stuff. At one point after three months of not writing a word I nearly shelved it, then came to my senses. I won’t do this again.
Write everyday, even if its just twenty words and DO NOT STOP.
Choose beta readers carefully and listen to their collective likes and dislikes.
My five first pairs of outside eyes are lined up ready to read the second draft.
They’re all very different people, men and women with all kinds of reading tastes.
I’ll ask them simply to read and react to the story, in the same way they would if they’d picked up the book at WH Smiths at the airport.
Their idiosyncratic reactions will be interesting and their converging criticisms will be acted on.
I trust them to be honest.
Work at being the best editor you can be.
By the time the long story is ready to send to the next filter, the literary agent, the manuscript needs to read perfectly, contain no spelling or grammar errors, be structurally sound and above all be engaging and compelling to read.
The editor, banished to the back brain on draft 1, will come further and further forward until she has full control.
Wish me luck!