Posts Tagged 'research'

The “Final” Draft

Rabbit - climbI’m about to start the final draft of a mid-grade novel. I say final with a wry smile, because I’m well aware that if it finds a publisher there will be many more. So this is the final one before I send it to my agent. The previous draft involved a lot of rewriting, where I focussed on story pacing, structure, plot and developing the characters. This draft I’ll focus on polishing and tightening.

The next week or so will be spent doing some final planning and research before the hard work starts. I approach final drafts by going through the story chapter by chapter, focussing on a specific list of things I need to develop (as a dedicated Virgo, I love a good list). Lay people often think that many things on my list just naturally arrive in a story, and sometimes they do, but for me they’re not consistently there in early drafts. Early on I’m so caught up in plot, tension and the delivery, that the small elements that ground a story in reality and make it visceral often get overlooked. It’s the later drafts where I make sure EVERY chapter and scene works as hard as it needs to.

Some of the specifics on the list are the same for each novel:

  • Characterisation: ensuring each character is described consistently and that every interaction reveals their unique personality (quirks, strengths and weaknesses)
  • Dialogue: making sure it rings true and that each character sounds unique
  • Weather: weather rarely features until my later drafts – I have to make myself think about seasonal change and its impact on clothing choices, events and character mood
  • 5 senses: ensuring I use the different senses to describe any event (instead of simply relying on visual clues)
  • Poetry of Language: this is what I call making your words sing. I try to focus on each sentence, then each paragraph, making sure they read in a way that rolls off the tongue

Then there are things on the list that are individual to each story. These are some things specific to my current novel:

  • Humour: this story’s voice is quirky, so I need to make sure the tone is consistent throughout and that I’m exploiting every opportunity for humour
  • Time Pressure: the characters only have several days to solve their core problem, and the time pressure is vital to convey in order to maintain the tension
  • Flora / Fauna: the story is set in the Andes, so I need to convey a realistic sense of the wildlife present
  • Reveals: there are several ‘reveals’ in the story which lead to the climax and ultimate twist ending, so I need to make sure I’m building up to these and explaining them adequately (without info dumping)

While doing this draft I’ll also try to tighten the writing, cutting back the words like a weed wacker. In my humble opinion nearly every final draft could be bettered by decreasing the word count. I’m obviously not suited to writing massive, rambling tomes: I love a good concise tale, with room for the reader to bring their own ideas to the table.

So, what have I missed? What do others focus on in that “final” draft?

Forest or Tree?

Rabbit - lookAre you a big picture person or a details person?  A forest or a tree?  To be a good writer you need to be both, but like with most things, we all have natural preferences.  Things that are more appealing to us, and that we naturally navigate towards.  Of course there is always overlap, but for the sake of this post I’m ignoring grey and presenting only black and white.  So, here’s how I’m defining them:

Ideas:

A Forest loves to daydream, brainstorm and mind-map.  They let their ideas roam free.  And they will not be limited to just the story in front of them – oh no – multi-book series unroll before their eyes.

A Tree gets excited by each individual idea.  They’ll fastidiously unfold each one like an easter egg, careful not to break the foil.  One book at a time, thank-you, and let them plan out the beginning before they even think about the middle or the end.

Characterisation:

A Forest lets their characters appear as they write.  They discover their past, present and future as the story unfolds, and learn about each character based on their actions and choices.  A Forest will say they don’t write their characters – they just run around after them, writing down what they do.

A Tree needs to know everything about their characters before they start writing.  What are their hopes, dreams, ambitions?  They’ll interview them, find images of them in magazines, get to know every intimate detail of their life, including their flossing habits.

Plotting:

A Forest will let the plot unfold.  They will not be limited by detailed plans – no! – they will let the pure ideas pour onto the page as they write.  They trust in the story to write itself.  Plot-holes – bah! – their subconscious will fix such things.

A Tree will have scrapbooks filled with notes on plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots.  Detailed story arcs, chapter plans and action graphs are an absolute necessity before even considering starting to write.

Research:

A Forest will scoff – who needs it?  All they need to know is enough to start writing.  Incidental research can be done along the way, and any holes can be filled in later.

A Tree could write essays on the background research they’ve done, fill encyclopaedias with the knowledge they’ve accrued – all before they’ve even written a word.  In fact, many a Tree has become so caught up in their pursuit of knowledge that years can pass before they remember there was a story to be written.

I feel like I’ve just written a set of star signs (Forests are also givers not takers, and Trees’ lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 8).  I think we all naturally tend towards one more than the other.  I am more of a Forest myself.  For some reason the more detailed planning and researching and editing side of writing never appeals to me quite as much, even though I do quite enjoy it when I make myself do it.  The Forest side of me loves daydreaming about new ideas and plunging into first drafts with the thrill of the chase, discovering characters as I go and the surprise of unexpected twists and turns.  However I am able to be a Tree when I need to be, and to write well I need to channel Tree qualities often.  In second drafts I become very organised, with chapter plans and character profiles, and do much more research at this point.  It’s just that I don’t enjoy being a Tree quite as much.  I’m a much more natural Forest.

How about you – are you more comfortably one or the other?  How have you learnt to integrate the other side into your writing habits?


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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