Today I am pleased to welcome Clare Mackintosh, author of the brilliant “I Let You Go” to the blog telling us about writing a first draft…
Writing the first draft
Most discussions within the writing community about first drafts seems to divide authors into two categories: ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’. The first term is self-explanatory: writers who plot out their stories in advance, often knowing exactly what will happen in each chapter, scene, even paragraph. The second category refers to those writers who fly by the seats of their pants, letting the words tumble out with little more than a vague idea of what the end result is and how they plan to get there.
When I wrote I Let You Go I was a plotter. Spread sheets and complex tables told me exactly what happened when, with special colours for ‘reveals’, ‘plot twists’, and ‘secrets’. Writing that way meant I never suffered from writer’s block because there was never a blank page to fear: I knew exactly what I had to write every day. When it was finished, I had a book.
But it wasn’t the right book. My obsessive plan had been so rigid that it hadn’t allowed my characters to make their own choices. The result was a plot-driven story that didn’t ring true with the individuals who inhabited it. ‘When Patrick finds out about Jenna’s past,’ my editor said, ‘do you think that’s how he would react?’ I thought for a moment; picturing him in my head, remembering where he’d grown up, thinking about his relationship with his parents, with his previous girlfriends. ‘No,’ I concluded, with a small sigh. ‘He really wouldn’t.’ I had to go back to basics, working through the story as my characters saw it, not in the way I saw it. At each crossroads I let them make the choices that felt right for them, and coped with the plot fall-out as it happened. The end result was a much more authentic story than that first draft.
As a result of this experience I have moved away from being a ‘pure’ plotter. I could never be a ‘pantser’ – far too terrifying – but I have adopted a hybrid approach that seems to be working much better for me. When I started working on book two I developed the backbone of the story and shaped it just enough to know what major events were going to happen, but I didn’t spend time sketching out the entire anatomy before I started writing. As I wrote the story evolved, and I didn’t think too closely about whether that chapter was too long, or that scene needed to be in a different place.
I also stopped editing as I went: endlessly going back over what I’d written the previous day, changing a comma for a semi-colon and then changing it back again on the next
read. Going through the editing process with I Let You Go made me realise just how many changes I would make to a book before it hit the shelves: what was the point in fiddling with sections of prose I might not even keep? If I couldn’t think of exactly what I wanted to say I simply wrote notes in capitals and carried on going, avoiding getting lost in internet searches, or trawling through the manuscript for someone’s last name.
When I wrote the first draft of I Let You Go I was trying to make it perfect, without realising that until the structure is right, perfection is impossible. Now I write very differently, and my first drafts are about getting the story down in as complete a way as possible, ready to be shaken up and put back down again. Only when that structure is right, will I start fiddling with commas…
In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.
First of all I have no problem saying that this is the best psychological thriller I have read this year, no prevarication. For sheer addictive reading and utterly compelling character arcs, a very emotional storyline and some exquisite twists and turns throughout I loved this one very much.
Jenna has retreated from life after a tragic accident left her bereft – but in the small Welsh community she ends up in there is hope of a new start and a brighter future. However some things are difficult to let go of and as Jenna attempts to move forwards there are things pulling her back into her past, things she must face if she is ever to find happiness again.
This is a totally haunting read -Jenna is a brilliantly drawn character who you will feel for every step of the way. To suffer as she has is unimaginable, and putting the rest aside this is a very emotional and heart wrenching look at how unexpected tragedy can torment us and affect our very soul. The heart of the novel is right there in Jenna as she struggles with the mundane day to day and attempts to move on, her attitudes and expectations of the new people in her life are very well described and utterly authentic.
Added to that very human story is a terrific mystery element that keeps you avidly turning the pages to find out the truth of the matter – Jenna aside there is a terrific range of characters to follow along with as things become untangled and slowly but surely we are lead towards a brilliantly poignant and touching conclusion.
Overall then a truly magnificent tale and one that I have no trouble at all recommending to everyone – If you love reading you will love this. Simple.
Find out more here: http://claremackintosh.com/
Follow the author on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/claremackint0sh
Purchase Information: https://www.waterstones.com/book/i-let-you-go/clare-mackintosh/9780751554151
Happy Reading Folks!