Getting to know you

Draft 2 of Of Falls and Angela is very nearly complete. Aside from generally being a good thing for my sanity, this has proved a very interesting stage of the process. As I see it the broad mental epochs I have been through to date (with associated effects on my general mental well-being indicated in brackets) are:

  1. Tell people, ‘I’ll write a book one day,’ whilst doing nothing about it (General latent malaise on the theme of wasting your life)
  2. Start writing short stories (Excitement, quickly turning sour as you realise you do have something to learn after all)
  3. Get better at writing good like (Excitement returns, older, wiser and more cagey)
  4. Draft a book (More excitement, until you realise it’s nothing like finished)
  5. Re-draft the book and send it to people for input (Excitement because, no, you still haven’t learned. When feedback along the lines of ‘It’s good, but…’ comes in a faint despair at the work still ahead)
  6. Finish the second draft (Mild wonderment that you’re still continuing with it at all. And a bit of excitement)

I don’t know what comes after that, because I’ve only just finished the second draft. However, what I do know is that in order to get this far I have really come to know my protagonist – the eponymous Angela. I have also realised quite how much control I have had to give her.

To try and explain, without giving too much of the plot away, perhaps the most useful piece of feedback I got was simply that Angela’s reaction to a key event was unsatisfying. Given that it really was (Thank you hindsight, punctual as ever) this meant I had to rebalance the whole book, which in turn meant I had to sit down and have a long talk with Angela about who she really wanted to be. And that’s what turned out to be interesting.

My original vision of Angela was a precociously intelligent and sharp-witted girl who simply doesn’t realise her own worth, fractured by acute and specific insecurities. It worked in the original framework, except that as time went on that framework shifted and grew more complex. And because Angela is so intelligent she adapted to the complexity of challenges thrown at her. Without asking me. This, indeed, is probably the main reason why draft 1 wasn’t final; She had changed along with the world, but over-protective father figure here didn’t let her go.

So having had our conversation, I’ve had to do the right thing and let her spread her wings. It was at once liberating and terrifying. The former because as I did it I realised how much it improved everything, and how right it was for the book. The latter because I did have brief moments of wondering who was really in charge of the book any more. I have decided it is probably best not to ask these kinds of questions. I’ve seen the film, I’m not John Malkovich. I do know who Angela Pryor is though, and she kicks more ass than she used to.

2 thoughts on “Getting to know you

  1. Editing’s a bitch, ain’t it? I’m slogging through draft 4 of my 3rd novel (none of ’em published, but the first two sucked beyond all words… err, let’s call ’em “Learning experiences”, shall we?). I feel like the real skill and work in writing comes out in the revision process. The first draft just vomits it all on the page and gives you the right to say you’ve finished a novel.

    The additional drafts, though, force you to check your ego at the door and learn how to take criticism. I really identify with #5. Once I started doing novel swaps with other writers, I realized that pretty much everyone’s universally sensitive about criticism. And yet, when I give criticism, I hold back. I only offer what I think are the most important areas that need attention. I think most beta readers do this, which tells me that I always need to take their criticism to heart in spite of that visceral, “You just didn’t understand the point of my story!” feeling.

    No real point to all this except to say that we writers are funny creatures indeed. 🙂

    • I find the hardest thing is starting on edits. It just feels so daunting and tedious to go through it all again, until you actually sit down to do it and remember why you started in the first place. I’ve been told I’m pretty good at taking criticism constructively and I find it invaluable. It’s impossible to see it clearly, it really does take someone reading it to say ‘Good, but Angela wouldn’t take that. It’s not right.’ A little objectivity goes all the way.

      As for giving crit, you’re right. I pull my punches most of the time too. But I can also be very specific and unless I know someone then it likely just comes across like I’m being an enormous toolbag. So I try not to do that. *ahem*

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