Thursday, January 15, 2009

Writing as sculpture

by Suw on January 15, 2009

I’ve nearly finished the first draft of The Revenge of the Books of Hay, a couple of months later than I had intended to, but so it goes. I’m currently writing one of the very last scenes, a big showdown between two of the key characters, and whilst I was writing the other night I found myself really eager to speed through the scenes and get to the end. It wasn’t just a “race to the finish”, because I know that once I put the final full stop at the end of the final sentence in my notebook, I need to type it all up and do some major surgery to make it work as a story. It’s not like it’s actually going to be finished when I stop writing longhand.

If you read the first draft as it is, you’d be deeply disappointed. I didn’t realise that one sub-plot would be important until I was nearly at the end of the story, so suddenly it jumps back 500 years and hurtles through that whole thread in one hit. Then there’s another sub-plot that I have vaguely implied but which needs to be actually written out properly. This story isn’t anywhere near finished, yet I’m eager to whip through the last few pages because the fun bit is still to come – all the reworking and polishing and crafting that will (hopefully) turn it from a mush of words to something more satisfying.

I’ve had a number of conversations with Vince lately about the rewrites to his book, An Alternative History of Balesley Green. Vince writes very differently to me – he thinks quite carefully about what he’s about to write. He plots things out, thinks about where chapters should end and what the cliffhanger’s going to be. I, on the other hand, just go “bleeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhh” and hope that what comes out makes some sort of sense, and maybe even shows evidence of grammar, punctuation and spelling. But I can’t guarantee it. Often I’ll find myself writing a sentence and thinking “This is a shit sentence, but sod it, carry on.”

Vince’s rewrite seems to be much more about fixing what’s there, reworking chunks, refining, polishing. My way of rewriting is to, well, rewrite everything, restructure it, pull it about until it’s the shape I want it to be. I might be overstating Vince’s methodology, but he strikes me as being like a sculptor working in marble. His first draft is akin to the first pass at a statue – you can see the figure emerging from the stone and, whilst it still needs a lot of work, everything’s pretty much where it is supposed to be.

I work more like a sculptor of clay. My first draft is the armature onto which the clay is applied, but half way through sculpting what I thought was a noble stallion, I discover that it’s actually a chicken and so the clay comes off and the armature is reworked until it’s chicken-shaped before I start re-applying the clay again. This may happen more than once before I find a shape I’m happy with.

Importantly, I realised that I enjoy the rewriting more than the writing. I love taking all the clay off, mushing the armature around, and then starting again. That’s why I’m eager to whip through the final scenes – because I just can’t wait to start mucking it about and squishing it all into shape.

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