The How to Think Sideways course has been a great help in getting me from the start of a project to the finish, learning techniques that include how to come up with an idea on a deadline, how to discover the different genres your work will fit into (with some minor tweaking), how to surprise yourself, how to find the right ending, and how to revise.

I have two finished drafts done. It’s a great achievement and I’m proud of myself for having done it.

On the re-read of my first finished draft, tentatively entitled When Worlds Collide, I realise that my first drafts are pretty rough. The major details are there, the characters are quite well filled out, the scenes are set up and the story moves forward towards the conclusion, but I see a pattern of not describing characters or setting. In my head I can see the settings, but I don’t get the details down on paper. Not in the first drafts anyway. This is my ‘weak’ point.

I have three wise guides and the ones I chose (outlined in this post) are helping me with my weak point.

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld breaks down different scene types, outlines the elements that need to be included and the best way to let the scene unfold. The second scene in WWC is a dialogue scene between my heroine and her grandmother and Rosenfeld recommends describing the setting of a dialogue scene within the first couple of paragraphs before developing the dialogue.

Elizabeth George, in her book Write Away, writes that setting can do two things: 1. set up an atmosphere, and 2. reveal character.

The dialogue scene takes place in the kitchen so I took the time to do an exercise I came across some years ago. (I can’t remember where, unfortunately, and googling the main keywords produces no results).

  1. Describe the setting using details that the pov character can see;
  2. Rewrite the description to include details that the pov character can hear;
  3. Rewrite to include details that the pov of character can smell;
  4. Rewrite the description to include details the pov character can feel/touch – e.g. texture (imagined or real), temperature, etc.;
  5. Rewrite the description to include details the pov character can taste – and this can apply to settings that don’t include meals or eating;
  6. Re-read the description. There’s a lot more detail in the paragraph than needs to be there. Pick out the ones that create the atmosphere you’re looking for, or the most eye-catching or evocative;
  7. Rewrite the paragraph with these details only.

My second wise guide, Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan, teaches the reader/writer how important it is to select the right word, not a word with an approximate meaning, or a word “that will do”. It’s important to know the shades of meaning that exist between synonyms. It’s important to consider the music of the word. It’s important to consider whether the word fits the atmosphere you’re trying to create.

While I was doing the exercise on the kitchen setting, I was reading Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rights and I love how Pratchett created such a vibrant picture of Mistress Weatherwax’s house on the page. It was marvellous. If I can manage to do the same with the grandmother’s kitchen in WWC I’ll be ecstatic!

My third wise guide is Dialogue and this relates directly to my scene type. I have my dialogue in place, more or less. I need to work out the chronology of the sentences because two important messages or life lessons are given to the heroine by her grandmother. Thinking about it, it’s quite possible that I’ll have to put them into two separate scenes.

Another important consideration with dialogue scenes is to avoiding Talking Heads. Talking Heads happens when characters are having a conversation divorced from a setting, time and physical activity. Picture a couple of heads suspended in mid-air talking to one another! 🙂

It’s slow going. I know the standard I want to achieve in my writing (which is basically write something I would love reading) but I have to take the time to learn the skills. That’s why it seems to be slow going. However, the more I learn, the more I practise, the more I write, the easier the process will become.

Bit by bit my first drafts will become better and better and need less revising than they do now.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the learning process.