Today in the First Draft hot seat is crime writer Mel Sherratt.
Ever since Mel can remember, she has been a meddler of words. Born and raised in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, she used the city as a backdrop for her first novel, TAUNTING THE DEAD, and it went on to be a Kindle #1 bestseller.
Her writing has come under a few different headings – grit-lit, sexy crime, erotic crime thriller, whydunnit, emotional thriller to name a few. She likes writing about fear and emotion – the cause and effect of crime; what makes a character do something and why. She also likes to add a mixture of topics to each book. Working as a housing officer for eight years gave her the background to create a fictional estate with good and bad characters, and they are all perfect for murder and mayhem.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
I write down the thought I’ve had to kick-start the idea, and the few sentences that come from that. It can be a line in a song that gives me an idea or an article headline or a track on an album that gives me a title.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Yes, I write a few paragraphs around it. Then if it’s a number of sub-plots, I’ll bullet point them. I’ll then merge the ideas together into another bullet point list and try to get a rough beginning, middle and end. After that, I try to make about twenty chapters from the bullet points. Then I’ll begin. Those chapters eventually end up doubling in number by the end of the final draft.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Pen and paper for the original idea but then straight to keyboard after that.
How important is research to you?
It isn’t until after I’ve written the first draft – unless I am writing about a particular subject that needs research first before I start. For instance, I often write scenes that involve the police and then have them checked by people in the force to see if they are ok afterwards. But if I have a character who self-harms and it’s part of their make up, I’ll do the research first.
How do you go about researching?
Good old Google first – then books if I need more lengthy detail. I’ll also meet people who can give me the information I need. Often I can glean more from a coffee and a chat that I can through doing hours of research online trying to find something useful.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
Everywhere and anywhere – and then I can never find them when I want them! If it’s really important, it’s on my desktop in the file with my latest WIP in it. That tends to get quite full towards the end of the final draft.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Erm, very roughly! I aim for 3-4000 words each day during the week and a 1000 each day over the weekend. It often doesn’t end up that way but it tends to equal out at the end. So when I start, I might get to 2000 a day, then 3000, then 4000 but during the last couple of weeks is when I’ll most likely write the bulk of it as I go tearing to the end.
At the beginning when I’m getting down the ideas and plots that I’ve thought of, I also open a file for anything I think of that could be used in the second draft and pop it in there. I don’t stop once I’ve started the first draft so I look at these ideas after I’ve finished. And when I’ve written ‘The End’ that is when the work starts. I do three drafts before I show anyone what I’ve written.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I always have to buy a new notebook. I think that has more to do with the fact that I’m a stationery freak really. But I do like the process of choosing one knowing that I’m about to start a new project. It’s a must.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
I do tend to go to ground when I draft or rewrite. For some reason, I have to do it quickly and then let it rest. So I’m not one to moan if I’m interrupted but ultimately if I want to write fore several hours in a day, then nothing else matters. Selfish, but I can’t do it any other way. It’s as if the whole book consumes me until I’ve reached ‘The End.’
What does your work space look like?
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
Just get the words out. If I stopped to edit, I don’t think I could allow myself to waffle. Waffle on a first draft always leads me to writing the scene I really wanted to during the second draft.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I use a Word document with a three row table. I add the date, the word count for the day and then have an overall total word count. Very simple but I find it very inspiring as I add to it. And a push sometimes when I don’t!
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
It takes about six weeks for me and, well, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It also has a lot of gaps, research required, checks, inconsistencies, waffle, often new characters to add etc. But hopefully it has a lot of possibilities.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
Before I had my Kindle, I would always read it through by printing out each draft as I go. But now I only do this for the first draft. I scribble ALL over the first draft so when I’ve added everything into the second draft, then I’ll upload this to my Kindle and write notes alongside reading it back. I’ve really enjoyed having the Kindle for this purpose.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I read it back in full and try to make sense of what I’ve written – or what I want to write from that. And then I look in my ideas file and marry the two together. Once the second draft is done and I’m feeling happier with the story as a whole, during the third draft, I’ll concentrate more on getting facts right, adding more description and an extra layer of fear and emotion if possible. Once the story is down in full, I find I can concentrate more scene by scene with the tiny detail required.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
If you want to answer the First Draft questions, please just let me know and we’ll sort out a date!