Monday, May 31, 2010

First draft? And lunch with Deon Meyer.


When I first began writing, my first draft was pretty much a complete novel. There were subsequent drafts, of course, to clear up ambiguities, plant more red herrings, expand character motivation etc. etc. But generally speaking I approached the day’s work as if that day I would produce something publishable.

As my career moved on, and I wrote more and more books things began to change. I realized this last week when I was writing a scene for Among the Departed, Molly Smith #5. This scene is pretty close to the end of the book. Several police officers are gathered in the lunch room. Just chatting. Sergeant Winters and Detective Lopez arrive, Lopez in search of a pop, talking about sending the cold case Winters’ is investigating back to the basement. One of the officers says something off hand, Winters picks up on it, and BANG, the case, as S. Holmes once said, is afoot.


This scene is pretty much all dialogue, but what’s missing is any description before and after of the situation in the lunch room, or of any introspection while the conversation is going on.

The next day, re-reading the scene, I realized that I was prepared to leave all that stuff until the second draft.

Which I did.

This is a major change for the way I write, and it seems to have evolved slowly, without my quite realizing what was happening. Perhaps I have come to understand that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and that no publisher is going to reject the book on the basis of the first draft. No one, in fact, is going to see it. Not even my critique partners.

The hardest part of a book, IMHO, is just getting the darned plot and character development down. Having it flow easily, make sense, have the characters achieve (negatively as well as positively) what I want them to achieve. Description and emotion and introspection add atmosphere, are essential for a good read, but it now works for me to leave those things until later. Is one way better than the other?

Probably not. As with almost everything about writing, what works for you is what’s best.

Had a great time at Bloody Words in Toronto. The event was topped off by the Sisters in Crime lunch at East Restaurant on Queen Street West. I was fortunate enough to snag a seat across from the hugely popular South African writer Deon Meyer, who I wanted to speak with as I lived in South Africa for 11 years. What a nice man. Writes great books too! Check them out: www.deonmeyer.com

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