Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Birth of a Book, Part 3: First Draft

This is the third part of a ten part series on the process of producing a novel.

In the past I have compared writing the first draft of a novel episode to eating Tiramasu – or any other sweet that one absolutely adores. This is because, at least for me, writing a fictional scene for the very first time always produces a rush of satisfaction similar to a heavy dose of sugar/chocolate.

The most delicious aspect of writing anything for the first time is the excitement of not really knowing what the end product will look like. Even though I always know what I intend to write, I can never be sure where the creative process will actually lead me. A finished first draft is always full of surprises: unexpected developments, witty repartee from my characters or maybe just an unexpectedly vivid image.

Obviously, there are bad days when these unexpected plot changes or a head strong character lead straight to a dead end. I have been known to write a large chunk of novel only to be brought to an abrupt halt by the realization that I am not where I want to be. Curiously, sometimes I have fun writing even these scenes, but usually when I wander too far off course, it is like getting lost -- or eating too much of a particularly heavy desert! --and I end up feeling frustrated or angry with myself.

Fortunately, such misadventures are comparatively rare. It is far more common to find myself on a delightful journey into a new and wonderful place. As the story unfolds, I feel I am as much an observer as a creator. At one level, of course, the novelist is the person recording the story and translating the ideas/images/emotions etc. into a form that can be transmitted to others. On another level, however, the novelist is just a tool of a greater creative force, the servant of the idea that is the novelist’s inspiration.

Thus, when I plunge into writing an episode or scene for the first time, I have the pleasure of anticipation; I know I’m about to experience something new. The writing itself sweeps me up and absorbs me completely. The images and emotions I am describing envelop me. The words flow onto the page with little conscious thought. And then I sit back with a sense of being full and satisfied – just like when one finishes a piece of hot apple pie.







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