Wednesday, 28 December 2011


The period between Christmas and New Year is probably a time when most writers take a break. Right now I’m sitting on my deck with my feet up on this African Senufo bed with a view over the sea and a cup of coffee in hand contemplating 2012. Like Rosalie in her Taking Stock blog yesterday, I’m taking stock.

Last year in the run-up to Christmas when everything ground to a halt in snow-bound Britain and Heathrow had more iced-up aeroplanes on its runways than a flock of flamingos on a salt pan, I spent hours forced to slow down. My suitcase was packed, the desk cleared (as far as I’m able to clear it) and I waited. In one of those incredible long periods of more than 12 hours at a time over three days in the halls of Heathrow, I started a new novel. It was set on the coast of the place I was about to fly to, and started with a shipwreck. Perhaps I was metaphorically shipwrecked.
Now a year later I’m physically back on that coast having just flown out yesterday but this time with a completed first draft in my suitcase. It’s taken a year. (Am I the only writer who needs a year for a story to formulate?) Now begins the task of strengthening that tentative and fragile text. Time to assess.
In no particular order, I’ve come up with the following actions we can take to turn first drafts into second drafts.
Cutting out the Flack
Measuring Inner Change
Strengthening Point of View
Bridging Conflict
Freezing Moments in Time
Raising the Stakes
Developing the Protagonist
Developing the Antagonist
Discovering the True Theme
Writing the story to its Fullest Potential.
Making the story more Robust.
Deepen the Dilemma
I’m sure you can all add to this list. But with my coffee hitting the adrenalin spot, it's suddenly struck me how many of the things we do with a first draft, are things we can apply to our lives… especially when a New Year is fast approaching. This could get very psycho-analytical. I might start feeling very flawed!
And first drafts often feel flawed… particularly if you write intuitively rather than with blow by blow planning. The bundle of newly printed-out pages waiting in my unpacked suitcase, is fragile. Over-exposure to too many friends or family or even an agent, while a story has just moved from something inchoate to a more fully fledged shape with a beginning, a middle and an end, can leave any writer feeling undermined.
At the start of the New Year, I’m not going to put myself through the rigours of analytical appraisal (even though my family might think it a good idea) nor am I going to be too harsh on my first draft. I’m going to take it for what it is… a first draft… slightly flawed but with great potential!!! That list can be put on hold for a while. I'm drinking my coffee and enjoying the view hoping for a few dolphins in the Bay.
PS. Have just thought of another one for the list... Cutting a lot out!


Giles Diggle said...

Being an "intuitive" writer, I tend to go through at least three drafts and by the time I have reached the final one, I have deleted more than a third of the text.

One thing I do, is challenge every simile and metaphor - if in doubt I delete them.

Good luck with the re-drafting.

catdownunder said...

I put a draft aside two days before Christmas and I have told myself I cannot look at it until at least after New Year. I just wish I was organised as you sound!

malrostan said...

A checklist! Just what I needed as I start my second draft. Thanks, Dianne! And Happy New Year!

adele said...

Very wise words, Dianne. Just what I need too. Am on second draft which has gone on for FAR TOO LONG....

Sue Purkiss said...

And it's just what I need too! Thanks, Di - and the pictures are lovely.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Excellent points.

What do you mean by cutting out the flack? Do you mean slack? Keeping the MS taught?

Other editing points to consider:

Cutting out weasel words, e.g.

A bit
There was ...
Felt like

... etc.

Cutting out abstract, imprecise language:

He picked up (snatched) something heavy (a rock) and hit James on the face (smashed James on the nose). James cried (howled and fell to his knees) out and fell.

Cutting overwriting:

Where every noun and verb has an adjective or an adverb attached to it.

Think about meaning:

What is it you're really trying to say? What is the scene about? What does the character fear?

Look for opportunities to make the scene shine!

Otherwise, another good post mom.
Dave Hofmeyr

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks to all of you... yes all simile's and metaphors to go (not even allowed in blogs anymore in case I get sloppy!)and including the wise words of my son! Its given me lots to think of while I sit here with my feet still up on the African Senufo bed and the coffee now replaced with a glass of chilled wine! The second draft will have to wait.

Pauline Fisk said...

What I like best about this is your giving the first draft TIME. It's so easy to rush things and panic and not allow oneself space. I shall most certainly be bearing this in mind when I start again in the new year. said...