Friday, 18 December 2009

a different way of thinking

So I've done some thinking and I've come to the following conclusion.
Re-writing = treading water.

Last night, I opened the document, copied in the words I’d done at work and then found the interview scene that went next. I went through it and, because I now know a lot more about my murderer and the method of death has changed, a lot of it had to be deleted as it just wasn’t relevant. So I re-wrote a lot, but it didn’t actually add much to my word count. In fact, I think I may have had less words than I started off with. But the “proper first draft” of the novel is now 30 pages long, as opposed to 26. I’ve spent all of November worrying about my word count, that now its hard not to measure things in word count terms. Just because I haven’t added words doesn’t mean I haven’t added value.

And my “proper first draft” is still lacking a lot, there are some scenes that are two dimensional and have no depth whatsoever, but these are things I can fix later. So anyway, I am going to stop measuring myself on overall word count, and start looking at length of coherent story. I still want to aim to add another 15k, but I hope that will work out alright. Tess, one of my main characters, gets a speaking role soon and if you remember, she is now a lot younger than she was when I started so I will lose a lot of words then. I am also going to be brave and, by the end of the month, have deleted the scenes that really aren’t relevant (especially the one where I experimented with first person narrative). The word count will progress when I add description and write new scenes.
Its hard, but I need to accept that I will be treading water for a while. I’ve already won the race, and now this is about endurance rather than speed.

So, I feel like I've made progress because I've changed my way of thinking. Bang. Just like that, its like a little light has switched on and I'm like "oh yeah, why didn't I think like that before?"
Another thing I've changed my thinking on recently is sense of place. For the longest time, I've felt inadequate when describing place. I really like Ian Rankin, who lets Rebus wander so realistically round Edinburgh, historical, beautiful, dirty Edinburgh. The boyfriend and I took a trip there about a year ago and I felt like I knew it as I recognised places from the books I'd read. I could never do that, never ever ever. I guess that I've never felt so attached to a place, no one city has captured me in a way that makes me want to bring it to life with my words (my own fault, I suppose, for being slightly nomadic). Anyhoo, I thought that place was actual landmarks and buildings and real stuff, and it is, for some writers. But place can also be smells and history and feelings and thoughts and speech and ritual. Place is a lot of things that aren't actual places.

I wrote this next little story as a piece of flash fiction, then edited it for my writing class when I was assigned the task of writing about "a native settlement in an under-developed country". I received the rejection letter for the flash fiction today, so I'm posting it here (and even though its been rejected, it still proves I'm sending things off, which is good!) I no longer think place is buildings and Newcastle central station and my flat and St James's Park and Buckingham Palace. I think that place can be like this...

The sky is black, the stars look like tiny silver fish. The light of the campfires barely reaches up to the tallest man’s shoulders before it surrenders to the night. Groups of women and children huddle in the shadows, squatting on hard feet, soles stained reddy brown. The youngest draw pictures with sticks in the dust, silent storyboards of warriors, elephants and cooking pots. Somewhere in the far away darkness, a lion roars. The women talk in whispers and hug babies closer into naked bosoms, looking wistfully towards their homes, invisible in the dark. The trees stand an unwilling guard, their little huts underneath, just out of sight in a solemn circle, sturdily built by their father’s fathers of wood and clay. There is no-one there now. They have all been summoned to watch the ceremony.

The drums beat out a slow rhythm, softly stepping up pace until it matches the boy’s heartbeat. Strong arms press him down into the dusty ground. Buh-boom, buh-boom. His ears are sharp tonight. Above the wailing and clapping, the cicadas vibrate in the warm night air, surrounding the circle. He smells sweat. The soft salt smell of his thirteen year old skin and the stale stench of the Men. Buh-boom, buh-boom.
“Stay still,” a gruff voice says. “This will hurt.” He feels the sharp sting of bamboo break the skin on his face, score a line from his eye socket down to his chin. The blood trickles down his cheek as the dusty charcoal powder is rubbed in. Rough hands pull him to his feet, thrust the spear into his grasp and point to the white man, cowering between two of their youngest and strongest.

“You are marked as a man. Now act like one.”

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