Everything I’ve read about editing suggests that you should write lots and then cut out the superfluous words to create tighter, leaner prose. I think Stephen King aims to lose at least 10% on the first draft rewrite.
I have a problem with this. Ever since I was at school, I’ve always been very terse when I write. In secondary school I turned in a half-page paper on the Northern Ireland troubles since 1916! Looking at the progress of my novel so far, I’m most of the way through the big plot points with only the final big finish to go and I’ve only written 24,000 words. But, for once I’m not worried, because I’ve decided to do things backwards. I’m going to slowly grow the book upwards from very little into a fully worked novel.
When I think about it, despite the fact that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, it is a logical path. All my novels start with a simple idea or concept. Something which can be explained in a handful of sentences. From there, I might work up a blurb, and from there I’ll definitely write a synopsis. Then, I’ll break the synopsis down into chapters and acts. From here, my writing spreads out like a web, first into background pieces, then character bios, and finally a list of potential scenes. Once all this is done, I’ll start writing.
So, if the first draft is shorter, and subsequent drafts get longer, then it is just a continuation of this process. From a single sentence, in a sequence of steps, I will progress to a full length novel. This feels quite good to me as my initial drafts are in the form of ideas, scraps of conversation, scenes that immediately leap to mind. When I do the first rewrite, I’ll have a long list of jobs to do. I’ll need to add in details like the physical description, the weather, and other bits to set the scene and the tone of the book. I’ll need to join up the dots so that there is actually a sense of narrative rather than some disjointed scenes. And fill in all the gaps by doing research that would have slowed me down in the frenzy of first-draft writing.
A part of me wonders what it would be like if I published a slightly polished, but still pared down first draft. A series of scenes that leave the reader to do a lot of the work to understand what’s going on. I don’t think I will, because I have faith that I’ve got the right balance between leaving enough questions unanswered to keep the reader hooked, without leaving the reader so confused they give up!
As always, I’d welcome your thoughts and comments, especially from other writers!