Monday 18th January 2021
If 2020 was the year where I really dived into the craft of theme, then it’s looking like 2021 is the year I dive into the craft of voice.
As you may know, I’ve been struggling with this first draft. I’ve got better over the years at letting a first draft be crap. There was a time I’d want one chapter perfect before moving onto the next. I’d like to be at a stage where I don’t care how bad a draft is. I’m not quite there yet but I know all too well just how much can get fixed in a rewrite to the point that a messy first draft is no longer a daunting prospect.
I’ll now happily change names mid-manuscript but any major plot changes and I find I need to go back and revise. This is a large reason why I obsess about planning now.
I’ve established that the voice in this first draft I’m writing is a problem. Part of that is due to lack of preparation. That’s OK, this was an experimental novel and as such it’s allowed to be messier (and even fail) as the aim is to expand my craft as a writer as well as getting me back into writing first drafts after years of rewrites.
I did a lot of prep on this. My aim in this experiment was to play with story structure and use it to craft the novel. I really looked at themes and tried to pull those to the forefront. I outlined and had a very clear structure for the novel. I’ve condensed some chapters as I’ve written but that’s OK. I find I need some level of flexibility.
But what I didn’t do, and what has been a key learning for me, is that I didn’t go into it with a clear voice.
What do I mean by that?
On the most basic level it’s point of view and tense. Because Black As Knight is first person present, I went with third person past. This is the most common in novels.
A more detailed answer is that it’s the difference between starting a novel “Luke got up, got dressed and went to work” and “The sun snuck in under the curtains, creating little waves of light on the carpet as the curtains moved with the breeze”. OK, I don’t like that ‘curtains’ gets used twice in that sentence, but you get what I mean. They are very different in tone and construction.
One of the first things I ever had on Black As Knight was the voice. I’d just read Wolf Hall and I know that influenced me to go for a first person present. I didn’t even have to really think about it as that original first chapter just seemed to roll off the keyboard.
There are plenty of books I enjoy that are more of the former example: precise and factual. But I also enjoy the second. I’m not personally a big fan of poems, but I like poetic language. I like clever ways of saying things.
I’m sure there are ways of doing third person past that are poetic but that’s how I started this novel draft and it had none of it. As I’ve continued to write, I’ve learnt to let my manuscript be really messy and changed tense and POV with each scene, trying to find what fits.
I found myself slipping into first person present today and just went with it rather than try and correct. As I’ve said, I’ve fixed far more difficult things than tense or POV. And it seems to work. The story seemed to become less of a slog and a bit more fun.
But I’m in a bit of a dilemma. That’s the same POV and tense as Black As Knight. And I worry that perhaps that’s being a bit too repetitive and not stretching myself as a writer.
I also realised the book I’m currently reading, The Invisible Lives of Addie LaRue, is also present tense.
Maybe that’s my personal authorial style? Maybe I should not worry about it and fix it in the next draft?
Either way, I realise that one of the things I’m going to need to do with first drafts in future is really try and get a handle on the voice before I start.
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