Writing Fiction: Unfinished

There’s a great exhibition on at London’s Courtauld Gallery at the moment called ‘Unfinished.’ Incomplete art works from their collection. In Virgin and Child, painted by Parmigiano in 1527, Mary appears to have an extra foot. She doesn’t, it’s just that the angles are wrong. Also, there’s a large patch of brown paint in the lower right-hand corner, and the Virgin’s clothes are only indicated – by fat ribbons of paint.

My first-draft chapters are almost always in a state of disrepair. Big clunky paragraphs, from which sentences will later be lifted, naff dialogue which need several more goes, characters who say things out of turn…and character.

Early on, I learned this was okay. It was even desirable. The freedom of being able to write off the top of my head brought big errors and unexpected rewards.

I’ve just written a chapter that I knew had to have a certain kind of resolution. But when I started, she was ranting about him in her head, and he was staring at a sandwich. I let it run and things started to happen in unforeseen ways.

The final result was a mess. The first two paragraphs, at least, will have to go. But there are hopeful signs: a line of dialogue in the middle, some neat choreography at the end. I’ll just have to see how it works out. Maybe, shift a foot, paint in the background, fill out those ribboned clothes.

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