Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Freedom of a First Draft

It seems a little odd to be talking about the process of writing a book without actually showing any of the writing itself, so to redress this I’ve decided to write this blog around a small section from my novel.

It’s a section that may never make it to the final book, not because it is bad; on the contrary, I like it a great deal, but sometimes there are good reasons to edit out a section, even if there is nothing wrong with it within itself. To put it into context, I'm working my way through a first draft at the present time, mostly free-writing sections of chapters I have planned as part of the overall narrative. Whilst the style, prose, and even structure of the work I'm producing in this stage can be downright embarrassing when I read back through it, it does serve a purpose; writing in this way offers a fantastic freedom to explore my characters and explore new possibilities for the narrative flow and colour. Sometimes I find myself writing outside the original plan because something suggests itself as worth pursuing. These explorations of character are giving me invaluable material about the characters and how they behave, interact and think, and more importantly I'm getting to know the minor characters, and through them the principals.

Not that some of it won’t be a casualty of editing when I come to a second or third draft; I realise that everything that makes the final draft must pull its weight, either moving the story forward or providing needed understanding about the characters.

The section I'm including here is part of a larger chapter, in which the principal character Melanie and her work colleagues have a group evening out. It is a very complex chapter that cycles round several of the characters and importantly brings some of the possible love interests, and complications, to the front without actually resolving them. The piece I wrote here was a complete sidetrack from everything else and I won't know, until I have completed the first draft, if it just adds complexity to the scene or is a much needed island in a rough sea. What I do know is that it provides a delightful moment of friendship that both characters had lacked up to this point, it also offers a lot more depth for Sue as well as one of the only direct physical descriptions about Melanie's appearance in the book, albeit through dialogue.

The toilets were a cool relief from the barrage of sound in the main club. The gaggle of women monopolising the mirrors above the sinks turned to stare as Melanie and Sue entered, then turned back to fine tuning their faces.
 Melanie ignored the attention, and lead Sue to a suitably blank corner, beside a hand-dryer displaying an out of order sign. 'Sue, can you do me a favour?'
'Um, Ok, what?'
'I need to brush my hair–it's all that dancing, my bag stays still but I move around inside it and my hair gets all messed up. I'm going to take it off facing the corner so no one can see me, but could you just stand behind me, I'll feel less uncomfortable with someone I know stood there.'
'Yes, Ok.'
'Um, do you want me to hold your bag?'
'Oh, thanks. You know you don't have to watch me.'
'I don't mind. I mean you're really lucky to have such thick wavy hair, mine's just dead straight, I can't do anything with it.'
'I am? I can't really tell at the moment it's full of tangles and I daren't use the mirror, everyone can see my reflection.'
'Here, give me the brush.' Sue took the brush from Melanie and passed the bag back to her. It was strangely thrilling to be without a bag in a public place and have someone touching her, even just her hair. It felt intimate and risky, but not sexual and oddly, not embarrassing. Let them look for once, perhaps they might learn something.
'You really do have beautiful hair you know, those red highlights, and shiny, like, um, horse chestnuts when they're just out of the case.'
'Are you saying I have hair like a conker?'
'Sorry, Sue, I'm just not used to compliments. It's odd, I suppose most people only get to see the ends of my hair with the bag on. I don't know why I bother sometimes, it would be a lot easier to have it all cut off. It's not like anyone would know but it's nice to hear that someone likes it. It's a good confidence booster–so, thanks.'
'I wish I had a quarter of your confidence Melanie, the guys really like you.'
'I don't think so, what do they want with a girl who has a congenital difference? I've got to be realistic. Although do you think Howard likes me?'
'Howard? Um, I don't know, I thought you liked Robbie? You're always having lunch with him and sending silly messages over the network.'
'No, Robbie and me are just friends. Brother and sister of the bag. Besides I love Japanese food.'
'There you go, I think I got all the tangles.'
'Thanks Sue, you have no idea how much I appreciate that.' Melanie slid her bag back on and turned around. 'We should do more hot chocolate lunches together at work, proper girl lunches.'
'You know, work's been much more interesting since you came. You're a really nice person.'
'You haven't seen me transform into my evil double yet. Oh–sorry I'm doing that thing with compliments again aren't I?'
'Um, yes.'
'You're a really nice person too.'

If you want to know more about the story and why Melanie wears a bag, please read the brief overview of The Different posted on my website.

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