I never quite know how to begin blogs on how I write. Writing a story is a weird enough process on its own – thinking about how I write, and then putting that into words, is like trying to catch fog. But, for all my digressions into food, feminism, and my wonky brain, this is a book and writing blog, so I thought it was time to write about my current work-in-progress, Sigyn.
A while ago (a long while ago – yeesh, my procrastination is really getting out of hand) I put out a call for beta readers for the first draft of Sigyn. Since then, I haven’t done much actual writing of the story – but I’ve been working on it pretty much every day. That might not sound possible, but bear with me. Like I said, writing is a very weird process.
Terry Pratchett puts it rather politely here. My first drafts are pretty much me vomiting words onto the page. The result is always a complete mess, but as the saying goes, better out than in. (By the way, that call for papers is still open, so if you fancy reading a pile of metaphorical vomit…well, there’s something wrong with you, but I won’t complain).
The vomiting (sorry) is the easy part. You get a vague sense of the story’s shape and the way the characters are, even though it’s more of an abstract splatter pattern (dear God, I can’t stop) than a perfectly-drawn scene.
Next comes the hard part – making the story work.
I’m lucky enough to be a member of The Golden Egg Academy, with the awesome Imogen Cooper as my editor. A workshop, an editorial surgery, and a recommendation of John Yorke’s Into The Woods later, and I was starting to get an idea of what was wrong with Sigyn. (My personal conclusion – “nearly everything”. Which sounds disheartening, but isn’t – I love having plenty to fix).
Reading Into The Woods, I realised that I’d focused so much on the beginning and the end that the story sagged in the middle, like a washing line loaded with too many clothes. I needed an interesting midpoint. Luckily, writing a Norseish sort-of-myth means that there’s plenty of source material to
steal draw from, most of it delightfully bonkers (although I couldn’t quite justify my version of Thor getting a millstone embedded in his head. That one will have to wait for the sequel).
Sorting the story – propping up the washing line – hasn’t been much of a problem. Sorting the characters, though…that’s tricky. I realised that the reason I’d had so much difficulty writing Sigyn, my heroine, is because she didn’t want anything. While I’m always a bit sceptical of any “rules of storytelling” – to quote Mr Pratchett again, they’re usually just there so you’ll think before you break them – there are some that make sense.
All protagonists want something. Harry Potter wants a family that loves him. Merida wants her freedom. Kamala Khan wants to be a blonde superhero – and then realises that actually, she wants to be herself. In my first draft, Sigyn got swept along by events. She wasn’t fighting for or against anything – she was just there.
And she wasn’t very happy about it.
This is probably the biggest change I’m going to make for draft two. Sigyn’s not a warrior, but that doesn’t mean she has nothing to fight for. She might not know what she wants at first – but that doesn’t mean she has no wants at all. I’m really looking forward to being by her side as she finds out.
Alice’s books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Her webcomic, co-created and illustrated by Emily Brady, can be found at the Footloose website. Ally rambles about writing, feminism, and odd questions that cross her mind on Twitter and Facebook.