Different drafts demand different approaches.
I’m leading a strangely double life at the moment. I’m proof reading the (almost) final version of my first novel, whilst ploughing through the initial draft of my second. The two manuscripts couldn’t be more different. I like to think of the first as richly textured and linguistically polished. I’ve slaved over sentences, agonised over words and endlessly read and re-read. A host of other people have had their input: my agent, editors, beta readers…it’s been a long process. On the other hand, the second text feels thin and sketchy. I’m still working out my characters, and although I have a general sense of where the plot is going, the smaller details have yet to be resolved. I also need to do a whole lot more research!
Terry Pratchett once said, ‘the first draft is just you telling yourself the story.’ That makes perfect sense to me. I don’t want to layer details in my scenes whilst I’m still working through the plot. First drafts, I think, are the only time writers are allowed to ‘tell not show’, contrary to the popular adage. Sometimes we just need to ‘place hold,’ to sketch in the story, a bit like a pencil outline, to see where it is going, before we go back and work on the finer detail – the colouring in if you like. Often characters take on a life of their own – the novel needs to be loose enough to allow that degree of growth, even into areas we hadn’t planned. A first draft allows you to do that, to work out the interplay between characters, to watch them develop – and in turn that helps to develop the plot.
This time next year, I hope to have a fully-fledged second novel, with all the details clearly in place. But for now, a draughty draft is good enough for me!