THE FIRST DRAFT: One trick to get there.

It’s a marvellous “high” seeing those three hundred pages stacked up on your desk-the first draft! How long did it take? Three months, a year, a decade? I remember when the last page chugged out of my, by then, wheezing printer that I gazed at that first draft in awe for at least ten minutes. It was the first glimpse of my new-born.

But how did it get there? It’s important to give that some thought, especially now that the real work of revising lies ahead. What did I learn from completing it?

I vividly remember the steps along the way. After I had completed the first fifty pages of Conduct in Question, the first in The Osgoode Trilogy, I came to a screeching halt. I had absolutely no idea where to go next. I racked my brain for plot ideas and called upon my muse, who remained sullen and stubbornly silent.

Yes, I had created lawyer, Harry Jenkins, the protagonist, who would eventually grow big enough and complex enough to fill three books. I had created the beautiful Natasha, Harry’s beloved. I had burdened him with his churlish secretary, Miss Giveny. But I did not know what they would do next.

And then, the light went on. I did not know nearly enough about these people. Harry, his secretary, Natasha and the other cast members were on stage. Harry’s elderly client, Miss Deighton, and her strange family members, Katharine, Suzannah and Gerry, were waiting in the wings. Worse yet-although I had created the “bad guy”, who was eventually to become the Florist, I didn’t really know what made him tick.

At last, the answer came to me. I spent about a month [I was doing other things, such as practising law] making notes on a yellow, legal pad. I can see it now. I listed each character and wrote down as much as I could think of, for each one of them.

Physical appearance to the last detail, mannerisms, modes of speech and thought filled the pages for each character. Where did he or she live? What sorts of relationships did they have to the other characters and to themselves? What motivated each of them? Was his or her temperament extraverted or introverted? Honest, deceitful, violent or peace-loving? I could go on, but you get the idea. By the time I was finished, I had a file half an inch thick.

That’s fine, but you may ask how could such an exercise help? After all, I wasn’t planning on writing a novel of description only. I needed plot ideas. Here’s the interesting part. Once I had written all I could imagine about these characters, they-like dolls from the toy chest at night-climbed out and began to play. They started telling me what they were going to do. Some were quite adamant. But this is not really so surprising. After all, if you are creating real characters, real people, sooner or later they will speak up for themselves. And so they did.

After that, I raced on for the next fifty pages, until I came again to a halt. Convinced I was onto a good trick, I began the process again. I got out my file of characters and wrote down everything I could possibly imagine about each of them. And it worked. I was able to see my way through quite a few more chapters.

Now this process works for me, but it may not for other writers. Perhaps it works for me, simply because no character can come alive on the page unless I really know him or her well. If you do get this intimately involved in your characters lives, perhaps they will tell you the story-but only when you listen carefully when the toys come out to play late at night.

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One Response to “THE FIRST DRAFT: One trick to get there.”

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