Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Here be monsters...


I've drawn a (terrible!) map of how writing a book goes for me (click on it to enlarge it). It starts with the Fountain of Ideas. This represents that glorious time when anything is possible in a book and no ideas are too daft. It's "play time" when my imagination gets to run mad, and ideas chase each other and twist and morph into new plot lines. It's a heady time. It's where I've been for the last few weeks.

Eventually, these ideas all flow into the Great Sifting River. Here, plot-lines peter out because they either don't fit in with the rest of the book, or just don't have the legs to carry them on. It's also where some plot-lines grow arms and legs and decide they want to be a whole new book on their own. And there are some ideas that just won't leave and inveigle their way back into the plot, invited or not.

After this, comes a giant lake: First Draft Lake. This is where I am at the moment, and where I will be for the next few months! And indeed, here be monsters. Some days it's all plain sailing through the lake - scenes come together, plot lines zing and all is right with the world.

And then there are the days when the giant monster that lives in the lake leaps up and chomps its way through a whole scene (or plot-line) leaving it in tatters and you don't know whether to mend it or leave it to sink and die.

Coupled with that are the Strong Winds of Change (not yet illustrated) which blow the plot off course, steered by unruly characters who think they know best (they usually do). Navigating a path between the Strong Winds of Change and The Monster can be a challenging time.

There was an interesting article out this week, talking to various authors, which found that most authors 'hear' their characters. I certainly do. I listen in on their lives and they have distinct voices. I can see them and the scenes they're in, in my mind's eye, as if I was watching them.


I once posted a cartoon about the characters wrecking a plot, and another author got quite stroppy with me and said that the author is in charge and the idea that these characters are anything other than a construct of the authors mind, is daft. While I accept that the characters are a construct of my imagination, I can't agree that I'm always the puppet-master and they only do what I want! When I'm in the flow, a scene can gallop along and it just feels right with where it's going. Often though, it either introduces things I hadn't planned, or ends up in an unhelpful place, miles from where the original plot is. I generally go with these flows. The scene is almost always better than if I try to cram it into the 'plot box' I had in mind.

Writing the first draft is often described as the author working out what the book is actually about, and I would have to agree. It's the author telling themself the story and it's quite a fun place to be. But I know what's coming after this... Once I've found my way through First Draft Lake, I'll be into The Mountains of the First Edit - the seemingly impassible, soul-sapping region which takes the book, pulls it all apart, exposes the holes and the patches and (eventually) fixes them. I'll amend the map when I get there!

Until then, I shall swim in the First Draft Lake and try not to be eaten by monsters.



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