Was discussing my first draft the other day with a friend who has graciously agreed to follow my progress. The friend in question is a fearsome sub editor, amongst other talents, and the first thing she said to me after reading the first few thousand words some months ago was, “you don’t like punctuation much do you?” This was somewhat surprising, as I consider myself a generous fellow, especially when it come to commas. But apparently not. I was driving her nuts (she is a bit OCD, as she herself will admit) and the only way she could continue the story was to completely ignore all the technical aspects of the actual writing, and just read the story. Now the interesting thing about this is I like to write a lot of dialogue, and I strive to keep it naturalistic so I asked myself how do we punctuate our own speech when we talk to one another? Well the interweb has no direct response to such a question. But there is a lot about how to write dialogue, which you can discover here.
When I am writing dialogue, and more importantly when I read it back, the main thing I am looking for is flow. How well do the words link together? Is it natural? Now this is a bit tricky in my case, as I am writing in a somewhat faux Victorian style, which is deliberately more wordy than is common in present day speech. So for me it must obey two internally set rules. First is it relevant to the story and what the previous character has said. Is it consistent with the tone of voice I have set for the character (a good test for this is can you write dialogue without using “said Harry/Maude/Philip” and still follow who is talking without being reminded). Finally when reading it do I actually get a sense of how the character is talking, with pauses, stutters and hmmm’s that feel natural and not forced. Okay that’s three rules, oops…..bit like the Spanish Inquisition eh? So how I punctuate speech is entirely based on what feels right to me. So, in all likelihood, I am breaking every “rule” in the book. However, my friend and I agreed that as long as the reader can “see” the dialogue being spoken by the relevant character and it flows, how it is actually written and punctuated is not really important. Phew!
Ok, in other news, the first draft is now up to 56k and by this link I am approximately half way through the book. Woohooo! Of course, the number is irrelevant. I am telling a story not meeting a word count target. I was reminded of that fact by a brilliant quote from the late lamented Terry Pratchett .
“The first draft is merely you telling yourself the story”
Indeed, so how long is this story going to be? Hopefully just the right length to tell me everything I, and ultimately you, need to know. See you next week.
P.S. I have added extra commas this week, just to keep certain people happy.