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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Characters Waiting to Flourish

Being more of a 'pantser' than a 'planner' does have its upsides. It means that I get first drafts done, however terrible, without stopping to second-guess myself halfway through. Knowing I can fix something later is a huge weight off my mind and I rather like spewing rubbish onto the page - gets it out of my head anyway. Then I can move on.

However, that word vomit isn't the only reason I enjoy plunging into a story and seeing what happens, as I learned this month when I ran off the first draft of a play. It's an idea that's been floating around for a while but I had neither time nor desire to start a new project at the moment. Then, in the midst of my academic conference schedule this summer, I just decided to go for it, reasoning that I needed a welcome distraction to giving papers and trying to be a normal human being for long periods of time.

With this idea, I had an end point, some brief character sketches and progression notes but no meat on the bone, so to speak. During this (brief) planning stage, I realised that I needed another character if my two main 'events' were going to occur, otherwise my distraught heroine would be talking to herself, a drunkard and a schemer. Entertaining, perhaps, but not ideal for moving the story forward. So I came up with another character, practically at random. And you know what? She easily became my favourite.

The thing about not having many preconceptions about your characters in a first draft is that you can just let them go where they want and let them speak. This is particularly relevant in a play draft, of course, where the vast bulk is just dialogue. What came out of this was that the character I'd thought so little about took charge in a way I hadn't been expecting. She became a substitute leader with frailties she doesn't like to acknowledge and one gaping hole in her armour. Her scenes took precedence over all the others, including the sisterly relationship that's supposed to operate at the heart of the play.

I suppose this gives me food for thought when I write the second draft. There's a lot of character work to be done and the whole thing needs rewriting into something akin to coherence. No idea when that'll be with my PhD work plus the novels I'm trying to force myself to rewrite. But at least I got the draft down - and discovered a brilliant character in the process. Not bad for a few illicit weekends in July.

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