February 3, 2012

First Pages


I have just been figuring out how much of SHADOWS I have to get through every day for the next thirty days.* 


* * *

* Yes, I know.  It’s already the 2nd of February and February is a short ratbag to begin with.  But I’ve already told you I’m going to whine for a few days of March because February is indecently short.^  If my editor says ‘no’ I’ll sic Mongo on her.  

^ Ask Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance. 

** In case you’re wondering, yes, this does mean that I failed to reach my quota today.  This is of course Very Bad . . . but it’s also not at all surprising.  Or catastrophic.  (Probably.)  There are advantages to being old, wizened and cronelike in your chosen career:   your standard errors and pitfalls become familiar, as do ways of coping with same, and less blood and hysteria are spilt. 

I don’t know how common this is among the author sorority^ but one of the ways I know a story is ready to be written is that I know the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, the first scene.  I know where to begin.  Since my experience of writing is more about channelling or translating rather than some kind of pure feat of creation^^, and that the worst of the job is choosing the EXACT words, including what to write about and what to leave out—the famous getting character A from point B to point C problem^^^—being given a run at the obstacle to begin with is one of the ways I manage to wind myself up enough to begin.  The first few pages of the first draft usually go down relatively straightforwardly and, as I work, which is not fast, relatively fast.  Those first few pages of first draft usually feel—no, must feel—like a nice solid base . . . to start going spluuuuurgh smush GAAAAAH on, later.

In fact my first pages often change pretty dramatically over the three drafts.  I get back to the beginning#, having learnt a lot about the story and characters in writing the previous draft, and realise that while the ‘voice’ is there it’s obscured by a lot of fluff and fuddle.##  This awareness, not to say shock, tends to be most dramatic in stories told in first person, as SHADOWS is.  Yeeep, Maggie would never say that.  And then by the time I’ve got the first pages sorted (again) so that the book’s voice sounds as clear as I can get it at present, that draft is that much stronger because the first pages are . . . that much stronger.  There’s a lot leaning on the first pages.  If I haven’t got the first pages, I probably can’t write the book. 

So I’m back at those crucial first pages again now.  And this is the last draft.###  Every frelling word needs to be right.  I’m going to get words wrong because I can only write as well as I can, and I’m only too drearily mortal.  But I need to get about 99% of the words right in the first half dozen pages.  I can slip to 95% later on. 

One of the peculiarities of this business of hearing the story’s voice is recognising it as different from your own.  Well, duh.  But it makes the translation/channelling/word-choice that much hairier, because you can’t just go for saying or describing something the best, whatever ‘best’ may be, you can.  You have to do it with, and within, the story’s voice.  There are times when I CANNOT think of another word for this or that~ that fits in the story’s voice.  I can only think of how to say it in my voice.  Arrrrgh.  (So I highlight it, and keep going.)  And I’ve given myself—or no, I haven’t, the frelling Story Council has given me—a trammel and a trickiness, this book:  first person narrator, seventeen years old, in an alternative-modern world.  (At least she’s a girl.)  What I think of as my semi-forsoothly style, so any of my high-fantasy third-person-narration books, including PEGASUS~~, is the easiest base line for me the struggling scribe—although even semi-forsoothly varies from book to book because no book’s voice is like any other book’s voice.  The bright sharp individual edge of a first person narration is a lot of fun, as is trying, an especially taxing exercise in these alt-mod stories, to ride the frelling slang till it settles down enough I start understanding it—but it also means that great swathes of my own vocabulary and my own way of expressing things are gone.  Speaking of ‘yeeep’.

So.  Anyway.  I’ve done about half my necessary word-count today, but that’s not actually too bad.  I’ve got several pieces of important slang imperfectly heard for two drafts nailed at last.  I tend to ‘hear’ slang the way I ‘hear’ characters’ names, and especially when these are not words or names I know, it can take a lot of repetitions before I finally have what I need~~~. 

Onward.  Tomorrow I will catch up.  By the end of tomorrow I will have accomplished the full page count for day two, as if day one had . . . behaved.  —This sentence originally had the word ‘schedule’ in it but . . . that word and I have a matter/anti-matter relationship and I have a book to write.    

^ Or even fraternity 

^^ I wish.  I’d love to feel that I was in control.+ 

+  Yes.  I would write a sequel to SUNSHINE.  And I would have finished PEG II this year.  No, wait, I would have finished the one volume version two years ago.  No, wait . . . it was an ELEMENTALS AIR short story. . . . 


+ An estimate of the goblins will do.  

# Remember that I tend to write three drafts serially:  first draft, beginning to end.  Second draft, beginning to end.  Third draft, beginning to . . . please the gods, end.  I will go back and make notes or minor changes for consistency mid-draft, but mostly I keep going, and what I absolutely do NOT do is get bogged down rereading and tinkering.  For me this is death and disaster.  The story tells itself to me in flow and motion.  My first priority is to keep it moving.  I will read through the final draft after it’s FINISHED and tinker then. 

## This time around this is reminding me of Nadia saying, at my first lesson, that she can hear what my voice is, and that we’re going to let it out of prison.  The most extraordinary thing about leaving New Arcadia has been the live metaphor of my throat/voice/speaking up for myself—and singing.  Nadia has always been able to get noises out of me I can’t get out of myself, but this week I swear I’m twice as loud as I was a month ago—before the sore throat closed me down.  Twice as loud even when it’s only me reminding myself to relax my tongue and jaw and to let the air all the way in and to engage. 


### I hope. 

~ Of course I am also afflicted with Menopause Brain. 

~~ Despite the rabid gremlin infestation of other aspects of PEGASUS. 

~~~ CHARACTERS MUMBLE.  And since I’m mostly a ghost in their world saying ‘would you repeat that please’ doesn’t work.  At best they probably stare at me and wonder what the cold patch in the room is.


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