Tuesday 31 May 2022

Writing diary: May

I’ve been pottering along working on the same book since the beginning of the year, going more and more slowly. I started the year with a very full plan and then wrote every day, first by hand and then typing up what I’d written. This was a lot of work, but I thought it was cutting out a stage of drafting by making me really think about what I’d put down on paper as I typed it. However, I think now that there’s something larger at stake with the book, a fundamental thing in the plot that I thought was minor but which is actually right at the heart of it. What this means, I think, is that before I am done with this first draft I need to examine one particular central adult character and their motives and see how this links in with the plot and even more importantly with the central child character and their actions.

This realisation is kind of a back-to-the-drawing-board moment. It’s daunting and makes me question the whole premise of the book. However, I think these are often the moments from which the best ideas are born. This is when you, the writer, realise what the story is trying to tell you. Of course, not all stories necessarily need to tell you anything, and what this particular story tells me may not be what it tells my reader, but the story has to work for me first.

I’m not sure what the best way to go about examining this character is. I think probably to start with I’ll read what I’ve written and make some notes about her motivation and character. I’ve started doing this already, but I was considering lots of other elements at the same time, so I haven’t been consistent. I think at the moment this character starts out being one kind of person when you only hear about her and then when she appears in person she seems rather different. Then I’ll have to set out to answer the questions I’ve raised. Or possibly I could write from her point of view telling the story of what happened to someone else. I don’t generally like writing extra bits that I know will definitely not be part of the finished book, but – hey ho! – sometimes you’ve just got to do it. The other thing that can work for me is to talk it through with someone else. At least, that usually works for plot – talking sparks ideas for smoothing out plot knots. I don't know if it would work for character.

In the meantime, the new idea that’s edging into my mind seems so much more appealing than slogging away at this one. I don’t really know anything about this idea, except that it’s historical and to do with fear of nuclear war. A friend of mine who tells me she never throws away anything printed that comes into her hands lent me a copy of the original Protect and Survive booklet from 1980. Honestly, it makes my head spin. Did the government actually believe the advice they were giving would protect anyone? Was this what scientists were telling them? 

What seems extraordinary to me now is that I lived through this period and simply didn’t think about it. I had other existential worries – I suppose most teenagers do – but I guess I must have trusted that governments would not be so stupid as to blow each other up. What a dope!

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