First Drafts With… Robert Scragg

Good afternoon everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Robert Scragg to the blog, for another addition to the first draft process.

You can connect with him on twitter @robert_scragg or via his website

Robert has had two novels published, What Falls Between The Cracks and Nothing Else Remains. His third novel, All That Is Buried, will be released next year. He is signed to The Blair Partnership. He was kind enough to chat about how he writes the all important first draft.

Over to you, Robert…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

First thing I do is write an overview, that forms the basis of my synopsis. This usually ends up being three or four pages, quite factual – characters, key events, etc. – a walk through from start to finish. Next step is to write a mini-bio for each character (or any new ones if it’s part of my series), plus referring back to ones for returning characters – keeps my honest with the  detail so I don’t get pulled up for daft things like eye colour changing! 

The last step before starting chapter one is to make a chapter list. This is usually on a spreadsheet, with columns for time/date, location, whose POV it is, and one or two lines that tell me what needs to happen. This is quite high level though, e.g. Lead detective goes to arrest suspect. Gets provoked & things get physical. Caught on camera by young kid” That’s an actual chapter in Nothing Else Remains around eleven pages long in the final version, so as you can see it’s just very much a prompt to remind me what direction the story needs to head in. I don’t plan it more than that as this stage.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before? 

In a word, yes! It felt like it worked the first time round, so I’ve stuck with it. 

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

Once I start a draft, I like to plough on as quickly as I can, so do the research as I go as much as I can. If anything meatier needs doing, I’ll leave myself a note in the form of a comment on Word, and come back to it. An example would be in All That Is Buried I needed to know what bodies look like after different stages of decomposition in certain conditions. I wrote the scene up to the point of discovery, then reached out to a contact I have who’s a forensic anthropologist, asked a few questions via email, then jumped ahead to write the next part of the scene while I waited for a response. 

There’s no right or wrong way to do your research, but I’m in favour of just getting your story down as quickly as possible. I went to an event with Harlan Coben, where he said words to that effect. Planning isn’t writing, research isn’t writing – just write! Not to say that planning and research aren’t part of the process, but it’s easy to get bogged down in those stages.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write? 

Pretty much straight away. Once I’ve worked through the stages I talked about earlier, I’ll make a start the same day.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

The best way I can describe the actual writing of a scene is that it’s as if I’m stood in the corner of the room making notes as my characters get on with it. All feels quite immersive for me, like I’m there with them. Some people like to bounce around and write chapters out of sequence, but I tend to just write in the order they’ll appear in the final version.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

The majority these days is in the house, either in my office or at the dining table. Previously though, big chunks have been written in a few of my favourite coffee shops, as well as hotel rooms, beach loungers, and train journeys to name a few. I’ve even written a scene while sat in a dentist’s waiting room in the notes app on my phone!

Thank you Robert for visiting the blog, finding out about your writing process has been fascinating.

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