Friday, 11 April 2008
I did some gardening this morning. It’s a wonder the whole place didn’t shrivel and die from shock, seeing me outdoors. I’m a weedkiller gardener usually. Let me out there with a spray can and I’m happy. But I really need to plant some plants while the weather’s still warm, so I decided to clear a bit of ground and prune a few things to make space. Weedkiller is way too slow.
Things were going well until I decided to dig out some suckers coming from the pear tree. What I thought might be a ‘bit of a root’, turned out to be a huge beast, three inches thick. No amount of hacking with the only (blunt) hatchet I could find was going to get through that, and the worn discs in my neck were shouting ‘Don’t do this!’ So I gave up and smiled sweetly at P when he came in for lunch. He’ll probably sever it with one swift chop. Meanwhile, I’m sure my neck will remind me of my folly tomorrow.
Yesterday, I did some pruning of another sort – to my children’s novel. I finished the first draft months ago and haven’t looked at it since. It had a major problem that I couldn’t face trying to fix (a bit like the pear tree suckers), but yesterday I set to and started cutting.
The problem with it was that it is a fantasy novel, but the way I had it plotted, the actual fantasy didn’t start until Chapter 7. James, the main character, is eleven years old, new to town, bullied by members of his football team and plagued by guilt at what he thinks was his part in an accident that left his father in a wheelchair. He is befriended by an old neighbour, a whacky inventor, who makes him an electronic game with an unusual feature.
All James’s family and friends (and a few enemies) reappear in the fantasy as different characters, so I was trying to set the scene so that the reader knew them all before the main story began. I’ve scrapped that idea. I’ve effectively cut three chapters, starting instead with James realising what an interesting character his neighbour is. That way the fantasy action will begin at the end of Chapter 3 and hopefully grab the reader’s attention better. That leaves me with a lot of information to slip in here and there to ground the story. It should work better though, I think.
This whole exercise has made me realise why experienced writers suggest putting first drafts away for a while and forgetting about them. If someone had suggested I cut those chapters when I first wrote it, I would have dug in my heels and refused. I was firmly attached to them and I felt quite clever introducing all those characters. Even if I’d tried, I’d have been hacking away with a blunt hatchet, because my heart wouldn’t have been in it. Given time and space though, the need for a severe cut became obvious even to me and I was able to lop off the chapters with very little pain.
My poor pear tree. I hope I haven’t killed it.