This week, after taking a few days off as I had promised myself, I read through my first draft.
People talk about the “bones of the story” and I’m pleased to say it has bones. There is, in fact, a skeleton in evidence and that, at least, comes as some relief.
In some places this skeleton even has flesh and muscle and a healthy blood supply. It is strong and lean and vibrant. In other places, the skin hangs loosely off the bone and is in dire need of more meat. Elsewhere there’s too much flab; saggy, heavy, energy-sapping wobble. And finally, there are those parts which have simply been pieced together wrongly; a hand stuck on the end of a leg, an ear hanging off a nipple.
Recognising all this is fairly easy. Putting it right, not so much.
I’ve come up with two simple tasks to try and help. Firstly, I’ve broken down the novel into individual scenes, writing a summary of each one on an index card. High drama scenes I’ve highlighted in red ink. Then I’ve laid out the cards on my sitting room rug in the order of the first draft. Now I am able to see, more or less at a glance, where I need to add, take away, or re-order for maximum impact. That’s the theory anyway.
Secondly, I have set about giving each scene a specific date, written on a post-it sticker and attached to every card. This exercise is designed to save my novel from a severe case of the Wishy-Washy: a disease by which something happens at some point and then something else happens sometime later.
You may think it sounds like a waste of time fiddling about with index cards and post-it stickers and different coloured pens. I admit that it certainly doesn’t feel much like writing. But, before I launch myself into the long and arduous re-write, I need to take stock and plan carefully. I need to make sure I know what I’m aiming for and have a clear idea how to achieve it. That way, by the time I come to read the second draft, several months down the line, I’m hoping that, instead of lumbering along like a half-eaten zombie, my skeleton might just be ready to step off the page and shake my hand.