The ‘No Pressure’ technique

When I woke up this morning, I knew that I didn’t have to do anything. I hadn’t written myself a to-do list for the week and so I could choose whatever it was that I liked.  What did I decide to do? Edit the first chapter of NaNo #1! Sometimes, when you aren’t meant to be doing something, it makes it irresistible to the itchy fingers and their red pen!

Chapter 1 Draft 1

Some red pen action!

As a result, Chapter One has been rewritten with some further notes on a need to check facts on the type of cancer I have given Madeline. Now, this was written way back in November 2011 when I started my first ever challenge of NaNoWriMo and I had not yet quite settled into a routine of writing everyday. So throughout the words written I realised I was terrible at sticking to a consistent viewpoint.

One second the narrative was told from Madeline’s viewpoint, the next paragraph Dr Whalley’s thoughts would be expressed, and then oh, are those the cheeky considerations of Betsy the nurse? Yep. Awful. However, not so horrific that I couldn’t fix it. I had obviously started the novel with no clear understanding of who would be telling the story, only working out later on that Dr Whalley would be my protagonist rather than the enigmatic Madeline Tailor. After all, how mysterious a character would Madeline be if the reader were in her head all the time?

I also identified an annoying little practical issue. For some reason I started the novel using single apostrophes  – ‘ – to denote speech. Later on I know I use the more traditional double mark -” –  which meant that I needed to address this problem and decide on a rule. I’m sticking with “-” which means I need to change all the single apostrophes to doubles: not a simple case of just searching and replacing all, given that the single is also used in possessives and contractions.

However, despite these (and a few other) changes, I’m quite happy with the redrafted Chapter One. When I reached the end of it I wrote down exactly what it is that it tells the reader and this is what I got:
– Madeline is dying
– Dr Whalley is concerned that she is going to die alone
– Madeline believes she deserves to die
– Dr Whalley wants to help by finding support for Madeline, despite Madeline not wanting this
– Dr Whalley and Nurse Betsy may be having an affair

It seems like a lot of information, but I think for an initial chapter it provides the novel’s big question (Why does Madeline believe she deserves to die alone?) and establishes some key facts that the narrative will explore. In total it’s around 3,000 words long. I’m not sure how this will compare with other chapter lengths but that is possibly something to consider in a later draft.

It seems like, sometimes, giving yourself the space and time to step back can actually make it easier to step forward. Just by taking the pressure of my to-do list away, I’ve actually managed to achieve something I didn’t expect.

PS: I’m still doing Story A Day – check out my stories written each day on my Story a Day 2013 Page.


4 responses to “The ‘No Pressure’ technique

  1. Pingback: Wasted Time | The struggle to be a writer that writes

  2. It’s always interesting to read your old stuff again, especially when you realise how bad it can be!! I have a question, does the equality of chapter length matter? If one chapter is 3000 words and another 8000, is that necessarily a problem?

    • It’s quite nice to realise how much I’ve learned since Nov 2011! Makes the editing feel simpler and more clear-cut.

      As for chapter length – I think it depends on the story as to whether it’s a problem to have varying word counts in them. I think it should flow with the narrative, so new chapters should begin where there is a natural break in the text.

      Saying that, though, I’m not sure I’d appreciate reading a novel that had really random chapter lengths. Chapters, I think, help to set the pace of a novel so there has to be some consistency or pattern to them (like, not having two chapters at 3,000 words followed by another at 11,000 words then another at 8,000).

      Of course, chapters themselves aren’t compulsory in a novel anyway. Will see how I fare when it comes to the second draft.

      Thanks for stopping by. x

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