So, as I’ve mentioned a few times before on this blog, I have no idea how to approach this second draft. Yesterday was supposed to be the day when I got stuck in and did my re-read of the first draft, or ‘zero draft’ as some might call it, and I just … didn’t.
I did not have the clarity of phrase yesterday, but basically my problem was that I did not know what it was that I was going to try and look at in order to fix it. I knew, and have known pretty much since I got halfway through the draft, what a couple of the biggest, broadest issues are: the characterisation of Tallulah, and the flow of the story and plot – it’s messy, it’s meandering, and the end feels a bit tacked-on as a result, because the journey from point A to point B does not make as much sense as it should, if it makes any sense at all.
As such, I decided to ask my mother for tips on how to approach this thing today – seeing as she’s a PhD and has had a book published, I assumed that she might have a couple of tips on how to crack into a second draft. And I started to see signs of what my specific block was as soon as I asked her about it, because my question was very vague: ‘how do you approach a second draft?’
So I got an answer that I wasn’t looking for, and we sort of talked for a while, and then she asked me for the synopsis. Now I’ve been giving what I thought was the synopsis to people who have asked me about the book for some time, and I even wrote a blog about some of the issues that I ran into in that regard a few months ago. This was the ultimate logical extreme of that problem: I know the premise, and I know the direction that the story goes in, but I don’t know how it resolves itself and also tells a solid story that feels like it makes sense. And I only realised this when my mother repeated my synopsis back to me, and I instantly realised all of the things that were missing from it, and at last I understood where to look.
And so my first step is going to be to write a synopsis.
Take notes, people. That’s what I’ve said from the beginning, and today I now know that it’s actually sound advice. For every chapter I wrote of Tallulah, I wrote a synopsis afterwards to sum up the chapter. I am now in the position to actually go back and use those synopses in the process of refining the structure of my story. I believe we call this ‘winning’.
And this is not just about writing a synopsis that makes sense; this is about writing an accurate synopsis of what has happened in my draft, and seeing what doesn’t add up, and using this template in order to critique the manuscript itself on a broad scale. In short, through critiquing my synopsis, I critique my manuscript, and then move on to editing it.
And yes, this does also mean that I’ve decided the first thing to look at in terms of ‘what to change’ is going to be the things that drive the story forward – basic things like drama, tension, motivation for characters to do certain things – and the most important thing of all is, of course, how and why the main character changes by the end.
Obviously if the main character isn’t supposed to change by the end of the story this is a different story, and not one that I’d trust many writers with telling particularly well, but for my and most other stories out there, this one is about change.
And my main problem is that, while I know what the Before and After shots look like, I have no idea how to get from one to the other.
Now I may find, upon reading the draft, that I actually managed to do something that kind of works and I’ve just totally forgotten about it, but if I’ve forgotten about it then that suggests to me that it wasn’t a very effective strategy. And I may just be in a mindset where I’m more prone to see my draft in a worse light than it deserves because there is a part of me that still equates ‘critical’ with ‘mean’, and also because of what my mother remembered of my synopsis, which was not a complete story. It may not reflect the story that I’ve written; it may just reflect what I think of the story I’ve just written – or, of course, it may be totally accurate.
Either way, I need to read it to find out, and I now have a goal to direct my reading, and subsequent editing, and so, at last, I know where to begin.
Another thing my mother says she does is to write a contents page before she even writes the manuscript itself – the one time that I managed to write a draft according to how I’d planned it out is when I did this myself, so I may also do that. Currently none of my chapters have titles – they don’t need titles, but they do need a reason to be separated into chapters, and while that reasoning was fairly clear to me while I was drafting, it can’t hurt to go back and reinforce it, and fix what needs fixing.
And, more importantly, use it to help inform how I can go about telling this story better.
Draft 2 begins. One small step at a time.