Drafting A Story: Recognising Issues At The Start

DSC_1472In the first week of July, I began writing a “fast-draft” of Skeletal.

I had the first 30-odd scenes plotted, gave myself 15 weeks to do a full draft which gives me enough time to have days off, research twists as I go and re-plot when needed, and still end with a completed story.

I only wrote 700 words on that first day, due to feeling ill.

When I came back for day 2 of writing, I realised why it had been so difficult. My beginning did nothing for me: I didn’t like it. There was no spark of life in the character or landscape. No humanity nor intrigue. No hook to catch my own eye.

I began to doubt myself. I re-wrote that scene; adding in a little conflict, and some more character quirks. And still, my character was as flat as the laptop screen.

~

It took a week or so to analyse where the block is. If I’m blocked; it’s usually a sign that somewhere, the story doesn’t work, or that I don’t care enough about the character.

This time, it seems I had the opposite problem.

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion in the Western world. Political shifts, innocents killed, coups and mental health stigma. It turns out, my novel hit a chord within this particular month.

Writing about a character struggling with mental health, hiding from the political changes within her world, where danger lurks above ground and the inciting incident feels a little too real considering the past month’s events — I couldn’t connect with the story without reliving the hurts of the real world. Even the first scene, where there is only a small hint of conflict, brought my attention close to the truth of what is already happening in my world.

So I let myself take a break. I returned to the plot; making progress on the storyline and figuring out how much of these feelings I wanted to include. I then returned to reading and adjusted my word-count goals.

And when I had the full weekend to work on it, I re-read my query letter, which contains the most interesting aspects of the story, and I began a different scene, focusing on introducing what I love about my characters. I let myself be open to what came; telling myself I just needed to get to know the character again; and thus no pressure to ‘write the perfect scene, following my outline.’ As long as I am writing, it will all support me to tell the story.

Three thousand words later, I was in the story’s world, and my character has made her first major choice. I had separated enough of this world and these people from my world, and I could return to my outline and let the drafting commence.

~

Yet even then, more of the news circulated, I became tired and I just kind of… lost momentum. So here I am, back at my outline, looking for that spark to re-ignite. But I know it’s there, and with a little gentle coaxing, that ember will be once again a flame.

Have you ever been blocked by too-close-to-the-real-world aspects? How did you break free?

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2 responses to “Drafting A Story: Recognising Issues At The Start

  1. Sometimes, it feels like my brain just becomes overwhelmed by the media. In the past, I’ve had to disconnect and let go to find the stillness I need to even think about writing, let alone getting the words down. I had a similar reaction when the tsunamis hit Japan, I just couldn’t stop seeing it and I couldn’t focus on anything. It took some time to break away.

    • That’s definitely something I’ve been trying to do 🙂 Switching projects, giving myself permission not to write and watching comedy shows to recharge my brain.

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