Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Navigating the first draft

Well, as usual in Canada, we have gone from winter last week to mid-summer this week, and all around us, nature has burst into life. Plants have exploded and all the birds are singing as if to make up for lost time. The lilac bushes and flowering fruit trees are laden with fragrant blossoms, and it's sheer heaven to walk down the street. Well, perhaps not at high noon today, because it's sweltering.

Given the pandemic, we can be forgiven for not knowing what day it is. Even what month it is. But since we also know winter will be back, perhaps next week, we'll seize the day. I'm plodding along on my manuscript, which doesn't seem to want to end. I am beginning to have an idea of the climax, which is always a relief, and I think I know whodunit, although I've been known to change my mind at the last minute, but I still don't know how they're going to get caught. This is an essential element in mystery/ suspense novels. I have to develop an exciting climax while keeping the reader and if possible the detective guessing about who they're chasing and how it's going to end, up until the gotcha moment. Let's hope I figure that out before I hit 200,000 words. My contract says 90,000.

My first draft is usually fairly bare-bones as I rush to discover what the basic story is and who the characters are. In rewrites, I almost always add words because I enrich the detail of the setting and the characters, or realize I need another scene or two to flesh out a crucial subplot, fix plot holes, etc. So a 100,000+ first draft does not bode well. I know I can tighten scenes and pare my prose down, but to end up with a net loss of 10,000 words is going to take work. I may even have to turf out scenes and combine plot points.

There is a certain thrill to rewrites. During first drafts, I never know if the story is actually going to be a book, even though every other time I've written a draft, it's ended up being a book, so I should trust the process. But that's the uncertainty of the creative unknown. But once I reach the end of the draft, I can see it's a book; however imperfect, it's something I can work on. Add, subtract, deepen, fix, polish; it's all satisfying without the terror of the unknown.

If at the end of the process I have produced a brilliant, perfect, 100,000-word book, I'll throw myself on the mercy of my editor, who usually has a very sharp pen.


Donis Casey said...

I know whodunnit, (usually), and even why (usually), but I often have the problem of how my sleuth is going to figure it out in a realistic way. It takes a lot of skill to do it right, I think!

Barbara Fradkin said...

It agree, Donis. It's part of the fun of writing mysteries. And the challenge is not fully appreciated by literary snobs who think they're nothing but a formula.