A First Draft takes Shape

Red calf.

I’ve made significant progress in the first draft of my novel and would say that I’m around two thirds of the way through.  I feel as though I am pulling at threads, tightening them to create a secure and structured narrative.  What was once a stream of words is now beginning to take shape.

Red calf.
Could this little guy change the course of my carefully plotted novel?

I know I said that I wasn’t going to take time out to do research at this stage, but I did find myself looking up breeds of calf on the Internet, yesterday.  One of the calves in the novel has developed an instrumental role.  I had pictured him with a burgundy hue, slightly different to that of his compatriots, but didn’t want to lose realism.  So, I discussed the matter with my husband and he recommended looking at continental breeds.  We considered the Limousin breed, but also the Hereford Cross.  I’m still trying to make up my mind on the calf’s exact colouring but I am reassured that there are many variations, from rusty brown, to crimson hints to flushes of pink.  At the same time, I do want to mark my calf out as special, with a certain otherworldliness, so the details of his appearance and manner are vital.

This animal is going to bring my two main characters together, show them how they see the world in similar colours, how they are able to function better as a team.  Meanwhile, the rest of the narrative is rumbling on.  A couple of the ‘secondary characters’ are getting into their stride.  They are important too, of course, as they have an influence on the actions of the protagonists and on the sequence of events.  In some ways, you can have more fun with these lesser characters.  Nobody’s going to fall in love with them, so they can veer towards crazy, cruel or outrageous!

When writing, I often refer to a book called ‘The Creative Writing Coursebook’.  It contains a series of essays, written by authors on various topics and has been a great help when considering plot and character.  Just this week, I discovered a fascinating essay by poet and playwright, Amanda Dalton.  She talks about wanting to create a whole story through writing a sequence of poems – (no, I won’t be turning my novel into an epic poem!)  She approached the challenge with a thorough exploration of her lead character, Grace and her fiancee, Frank.

Grace is a particularly unusual character study, as she is based on a woman with an extreme reaction to being jilted at the altar.  Instead of returning to work, or to live with her mother in the family bungalow, she retreated to the garden and built herself a nest of leaves.  Amanda Dalton wanted to speak in Grace’s voice and understand her motivations.  She set about using a series of character based exercises.  She mentions ‘The Things they Carry’, also ‘The Furniture Game’ where you make a list of categories, e.g. furniture, animal, weather, flower.  Next, you decide what type of furniture your character would be, what animal, what weather etc.  She also looked at the senses, using them as metaphors for her characters’ states of mind.

So, I have a few more ideas to be getting on with.  Writing a novel can be hard work but if I manage to bring my characters to life with layers of experience, their fears, their quirks, their desires . . . it will all be worth it.

Photo credit: hazelisles / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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