The First Draft

It’s November. And I’ve set myself the target of finishing the first draft of ‘A Good Place‘ by the end of the month.

What is a first draft? No one seems to agree with anyone else on this one. And my use of the term here is a little different to most of the definitions I have come across.

hill station 2

A hill station in Northern India photographed by my father during WWII. How is this relevant? read on…

Ideas of what constitutes a first draft seem to vary from, at one end, a sketch of the story arc with most of the characters written in, a mixture of great and awful writing, plot holes and loads of inconsistencies to, at the other end, the story pretty much as the author imagines it, but with minor inconsistencies to iron out, prose to polish and some information dump to delete.

I imagine that any single writer’s idea of a first draft will depend upon what type of writer they are. Being a pantser myself, i.e. NOT beginning with a carefully planned storyline and characters, but making it up as I go along, I think the first draft has to be closer to the finished article than if I were a plotter. This is because it is a little harder to see when I have reached that destination.

So my personal idea of a first draft is the book written from beginning to end, no obvious plot holes, no gaps, and nothing I think is glaringly wrong.

When I come back to revise, plot holes will reveal themselves, and I’ll deal with them then. What I shouldn’t be doing is coming back to a work with a huge gap where I found it too bothersome to write the dialogue in the first place.

So it’s mainly dialogue I’ll be working on. There are two scenes which need a lot of work on them still, and quite a lot of smaller gaps in the final third of the book. The draft currently weighs in at about 85,000 words, which is almost twice the length of Making Friends with the Crocodile, and feels to me to be the right length for the story.

It’s taken quite a while to get here. I know it’s generally accepted that the second novel usually has a far more difficult birth than the first, but the storyline has changed tremendously over the couple of years I have been working on it, and has become something I had not foreseen at all.

I’m not quite there yet, though.

And what is A Good Place about?

I’m so glad you asked.

It is 1988, and an Englishman arrives at a small hill station in Northern India. At first he appears to be no more than just another tourist, but gradually we learn he lived in the town as a child, during the time of Partition. A couple of years later his family moved back to England in a hurry, and he suspects it might have been due to some dark or ignoble reason and has decided to do a little research.

The human landscape of the story is the mixture of characters living there, the good and the bad, the well-off and the poor, the weird and the apparently normal, especially the English left behind after Partition.  It also happens to be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the town by the English, and amidst the planned celebrations there are predictable feelings and tensions over this.

And the main character’s private life is a bit of a mess…

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51 thoughts on “The First Draft

  1. I’m with you, I think Mick. The first cut has to be nearly the last cut.

    I learned early that if I had to make too many changes, it either felt like it must be poor work, or it became a different poem.

    I always tried to take critique on board for the next poem, rather than try to rewrite what I’d already done.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Kevin. Yes, I believe that works best.

        I don’t care much for the dismantling and reconstruction philosophies of some approaches to critique. It kills off my joy in having written the poem.

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      1. I feel you should rest the worries aside and work on it. We are improve with time and experience. There are no shortcuts as far as writing is concerned unless you write a lot of short stories.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Barb. Are you actually NaNoWriMo-ing or some variation thereof? I tried it last year (or the year before – My God, I can’t remember!) and gave up after the first day, knowing there was no way I’d get anywhere near the word count.

      And thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Full of admiration for you writing a novel Mick. I just haven’t got the self-discipline. Sounds like a fascinating story too. Hope the second draft doesn’t take too long to sort out now …….

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, a lot of well-regarded authors seem to say as much . . . (of themselves, I mean). The problem, I find, is being able to assess a sentence, or a paragraph, in some mode other than as its author. For me, there are three modes: 1) Author 2) Reader 3) Editor/proofer. Each requires my being in a particular mindset to do the job effectively, and it’s not so easy to switch from one to the other. More or less everything I write in mode 1 seems spot-on, albeit after a bit of tweaking. Then when I’m in mode 2, the next day, say, I see that it never was, and tweak it again. Then finally, in mode 3, I realise the punctuation could be altered to create a better rhythm, for example, or that there’s a more expressive/accurate/pleasing term or phrase for the one that mode 1 put down. It’s definitely a 3-levels thing for me. Anything similar for you Mick?

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            1. I think it’s more of a time thing, Hariod. I might write something one day that seems pretty good, then come back to it later with a critical eye and perhaps it now seems clumsy or ridiculous, whether as a reader or as an editor. And something I write later may often modify my feelings towards it, too. That said, though, sometimes I’ll write something that I can read back and be fairly certain it will still seem reasonably good later.
              It all probably stems from the fact that I’m most definitely a pantser rather than a planner, which means I cannot escape the reader/editor in my head even as I write.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Not that dissimilar, really, as you’re still shifting between levels/modes, albeit generally within creative mode 1. I find the creative mode can sometimes slightly ignore the complexities of rhythm and tone that reader mode 2 picks up on. We most likely write very differently, stylistically, and for me the impetus is largely about rhythm, rather than, say, narrative exposition or even providing a clear and directly accessible means of comprehension. I’m certainly no poet, though I do lean towards including poetic diction in my striving for rhythm, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. But being in that mode is quite different to being in more pattern-seeking modes of reading, editing, titivating, etc.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I think rhythm is reasonably important for me, too. Where possible, I like my writing to be easy to read, reasonably easy to understand, and to flow both lyrically and rhythmically (now there’s pretentious if you like!). I’m definitely a fan of ‘slow reading’, and hope my writing falls into that category. Because of this, I need it to have a certain amount of polish before I can even consider it ready to be called a first draft.

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Richard. No, generally only I read the first draft and it’s only once I’ve then revised that to a point where I think I’ve done the best I can, will I let someone else read it. Largely because I’d like them to be picking up on what I miss or get wrong, rather than those things I can fix myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds like an interesting story. I’m not a great reader of fiction (I’m an autobiography nut) but you never know… 🙂 Good luck with getting your first draft into its final stage/s.

    Liked by 1 person

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