Rough draft or solid opening?

After a fairly solid month of writing, I’ve produced an opening chunk of the new novel project. It’s rather rough in parts (as previously noted), but I’m starting to feel the story take shape. The decision now is whether to keep going with a literally rough draft, or whether to dive back into the opening section to work that into something I’m happier with.

My original intention was to keep going and produce a rough draft without worrying too much about gaps in the story or perfecting the writing. This would allow me to revise and edit knowing the full story, and was supposed to give me the psychological advantage of having a finished draft quickly.

The problem I now perceive with this ambition is that, just as it’s not a great idea to build a house on shaky foundations, it’s not a great idea to continue with a story that’s not set up correctly.

It’s not that I don’t like the way I’ve opened the story — I’m actually quite happy with events generally (unlike the abortive first attempt at a beginning). But it needs to do a whole lot more. And trying to forge ahead without having done all the groundwork — in setting up both conflict and world —  makes the whole thing feel flimsy and lacking in soul.

I’m rather renowned for going back to the beginning, actually. I thought I might have been able to shake the tendency this time around, but perhaps it’s part of my process.

It’s as much about nailing character as anything. I know many writers explore character over the course of writing a novel, but I need to understand them right from the start so that I can trust their decisions are within character, rather than what I want/need them to do. They are only partially revealed to me at the moment, as is one of the key cultures that is integral to the plot, and by working them over again now I hope to gain greater insights that will underpin the whole rest of the novel. Unless I sort them now, how can I go on?

So I’m pretty sure my decision is made: I’ll be reworking the words to-date for the next little while. (Perhaps I’d better set myself a deadline.) I daresay many others would choose the alternative . . .

2 comments

  1. I’d choose the alternative. As long as you make notes on what you have and where you can see it going, there is no reason why you can’t go on. You’re not laying foundations, you’re testing the ground, and if the story doesn’t flow from beginning to end, there’s no point spending 2 months re-writing a beginning that you then can’t use. Get it? Or maybe that’s just me. Go, on, live dangerously, Ellen, don’t re-write the beginning, forge ahead instead…

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