James Holden: some thoughts on throwing drafts away

On Friday evening I managed to complete the first full draft of the story I’m currently working on (I obviously lead a very rock and roll lifestyle). It’s been a long time coming – I’ve been working on this story since mid-October and had hoped to take it to a meeting of the Asylum that we had in mid-November.

Let’s say the story is about a reunion, of sorts. I’d been motoring along with the piece for about a month, gently clocking up a decent word count, fleshing out characters, their backgrounds and dialogue. I’d been redrafting it as I’d been going on to make it tighter and resolving plot points as I progressed. Unusually for me, it’s was quite a plot-heavy piece. I was one evenings work away from being able to circulate it to the group.

But then I decided that the piece just wasn’t working. In fact, it was failing really badly. The only way for me to rescue the piece was to forget about what I’d written up to that point and start again.  

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, in part because I thought that the basic idea behind it was a good one. One of the problems was that I’d invested a lot of time in fashioning a memorable opening scene for the story that I was really loath to lose. As I’d been working out the plot in my head around the time of the Scottish independence referendum, the opening was set at a border crossing between England and Scotland. Looking back, most of my problems started there, really. Because the story wasn’t intended as a utopia, or dystopia, or alternative history of what happened after the referendum. It was meant to be about a reunion, of sorts. But the mechanics of an independent Scotland were intruding on the story too much – plot points had to be changed accommodate this, making it a bit more complicated than it needed to be.

And the characters! I was quite happy with them, but they seemed completely unsuited to the story I’d pulled together. Well, one of them really. I might come back to her at a later date, but she definitely did not fit with what I’d written.

So I decided to stop work on the draft and start on the idea all over again. I now have a completed first draft about a reunion, of sorts, except it now has a much cleaner setting that doesn’t make the plot more complicated than it needs to be.

It did mean that I ended up turning up at the Asylum meeting empty handed. But the interesting thing was that rather than express horror, one of the Asylum members said that my apology for not being able to circulate a story had led him to park a draft and think about starting over himself.

It’s not easy to accept that something isn’t working, because time, effort and love has been invested in all the bits that make a story tick. But sometimes, starting afresh really is the best thing you can do, and helps to make a basic idea work properly. All it needs is a bit of courage.

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About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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