Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Crown Thief Update: Not the End, but a Good Start

It looks as though I'll have plenty to talk about here in November - not least, the results of the Two Days Later short film contest I was at on Saturday - so I figure this might be the last opportunity I have in a while to ramble about the one thing eating up my life more than any other: the first redraft of Crown Thief.

I've been thinking a lot about something I've mentioned here before - the fact that the more I write, the less the words THE END seem to mean much.  In the movies, typing those two little words is as final as dying.  It's up there with huge explosions and riding into sunsets in the list of things that nicely round out a film.  Once those two words go down, the author gets to tear the last page from their typewriter with a flourish, slap it on the neat pile at the end of their desk and take a well earned holiday.  They're done.  They have created.

It's an alluring myth.  It's suspect it's done more to confuse aspiring writers than any other.  Because there's something deeply appealling in the idea that when you're finished, you're finished.  That's makes sense, right?  That's only fair.  But what I've slowly come to discover is, the possibility that something is never really done with can be just as attractive.  In lots of ways, the end of a first draft is where things just start to get interesting.

Case in point: Crown Thief.  I made some big goofs in the first draft of Crown Thief.  I reached points were I had to press on regardless, just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.  I wrote lines I knew were lousy, lines that did nothing but move the plot along, lines that did not a lot of anything.  I wrote passages that had all the pace of a gut-shot sloth and passages that skipped over vital plot points because I couldn't figure how to work them in.

And looking back, all of that needed to be done.  I had to let myself screw up in the short term, safe in the knowledge I could go back and fix what was broken.  Because, for my own sanity if nothing else, I had to nail my deadline, and then meant making mistakes.

But damn is it a lot more satisfying to get it right.

Which is, I guess, the point of this post.  Two months through the four I've alloted for my second draft, somewhat ahead of schedule, I'm definitely liking the fact that when I get to the end of each revised chapter, it's more often with satisfaction than cringing and a vague sense of horror.  Just over half way through, I've shaved off over six thousand words; I've rebuilt chapters from the ground up, even mashed multiple chapters together in a couple of places. I feel like I'm slowly but steadily dealing with everything I knew was wrong.  I feel like this is the book I had in my head, and in places, something that's even a little better.  If it's still a ways from perfect, I hope that by the time I finish this time, it'll at least be consistently good.

And after that?  I've got two months to figure out how I make it really good.


  1. I’ve just finished the first draft of my novel, but seem to have arrived there a little differently than you, David. Two and a half years for a first draft and I’ve given myself two months to knock the second draft into shape. I’m a big fan of pushing on even though things will need sorting in the second draft, but I try to keep those things small and to a minimum. I rarely sat down to write without having thought it through first, which meant days and weeks would pass without a word being written, hence the two-and-a-half-year first draft. Writing ‘The End’ was awesome though.

  2. That's more or less how I wrote Giant Thief, Darren ... I think the first draft took me the better part of two years, writing more or less a chapter a month; the second draft took about six months. If I got stuck, I drifted onto a short story and came back when the fog had cleared.

    With a twelve month deadline, I've had to come at Crown Thief a lot differently! Most of the thinking time went into a month-long fire break I had between the end of draft one and the start of draft two, where I got to agonise over the stuff I'd knowlingly screwed up and my trusty proofreaders did their stuff.

    By the way, I caught the pitch for Through the Eyes of Douglas on your blog. "A bittersweet love story about a self-harming alcoholic and a seven-foot court jester with a skull for a face and a machinegun." Consider me sold!

  3. Aah, the old deadline - not something I've had to worry about, but I'm looking forward to knowing that pain!

  4. By way of preparation, try spending a day doing everything three times faster than your brain can actually function. Hey presto! This is your life on deadline.