Tag Archives: first drafts

First Drafts

This is from Redwoods NP. It is named Julie Pfeiffer Burns.

And now, my contribution. I hope you’re enjoying following the Godfrey’s. I also hope you enjoy the occasional article that I repost from Chuck Wendig. A foul-mouthed genius, is the way I think of him. I was going to write about first drafts, and of course, just today, he beat me to it. But, I’m going to do it anyway, because this is important, dammit!

My first drafts are horrible. No, worse than that, they are essentially unreadable. Here, I’ll give you a sample, from a book that will, if there is justice in the world, never see publication. Here are the first two paragraphs:

In those days I was a big company man. By that I mean that I believed in the company, in what we were doing. In those days, if I could have, I’d have told anyone who asked that I was doing really important work keeping the streets and highways safe. So far as I knew at the time, that was the absolute truth. I don’t believe in absolute truth any more. I’m not sure what I believe in, is the truth. But I think I’m better off, if only because at least now I can tell people what I do every day, even if it isn’t much. Back in those days it was a secret thrill to have a job that I couldn’t even tell my own mother about, if I still had a mother that is. I was thrilled, and I was happy to be of service. The company? I’d have told anyone, if I could have told someone, that the company was putting us out into the rush hour traffic to get people to slow down and be careful. As they say, hah! But so long as I believed it, life was good. Let me tell you about a typical afternoon, back in those days.

Never mind where that was going, just look at that thick prose, over-talkish verbiage, poorly written gibberish, etc. That example shows why, except for you, dear readers, nobody ever sees my first drafts. They suck. They truly suck. But, the great thing is that I love writing them. It is such fun slapping words down into a file and watching the story grow, taking the plot from point to point, messing with my characters until sometimes I actually kill one or two. It’s a hoot, and I love those guys, I really do! Which explains why so often I have to delete entire scenes, occasionally a character, add additional characters, and for the love of Aristotle, put in something to make a reader give a damn what happens to those people, whom, by the time I’m done, I totally hate, and would enjoy seeing roasted over a slow fire.

I don’t have doubts during my first draft, like Chuck Wendig does. I have doubts when I read the damn thing over a few weeks after I key in “The End.” Because they suck, every time, and I can’t see, at first, anything that I could possibly do to make the thing into a decent story. I’m telling you, it’s depressing.

But then I start revising, using the bits of my brain that know about character, language, subplots, story arcs, emotions, showing versus telling, all that stuff. And, amazingly, that’s fun, too, even though I don’t get lost in the process in the way I get lost in first drafting. And I take Wendig’s advice every time and trust the process I use. It gets me there. At the end is a good book, and I know that. It works! It’s alive! Bwaaa haaa haaa haaa!


Thriller, Anyone?

Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.
Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.

I believe I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a thriller type novel, featuring an FBI agent and a cast of characters to support/impede her in her investigations. I’m not saying more than that, because projects come and projects go, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far about writing this type of story.

It can’t stop moving! They don’t call them “action” films for nothing, do they? Every chapter has to have something in it that involves a threat, a chase, some real danger, an amazing development, something that gives a sense of moving. Forward, sideways, or backwards, that’s up to where the plot is going at this point, but it has to keep moving.

Act one is going to miss a lot of stuff in the first draft. I have a string of notes to myself reminding me to be sure to put in character or development or background or all three in the first part of the book. I’m somewhere in act II, but I don’t expect this to stop happening. I don’t think I can adequately draft the thing until I’ve gotten to “The End” for the first time. I hope that my experiences with previous projects will cut down the total number of revisions somewhat, but there will be plenty, that’s for sure.

Characterization is presented in a lot of little ways. Does she like sushi? Does she hate Game of Thrones? (Example only. GOT does not exist in the world I’m creating.) How does she react in a given situation? How is she with dogs, cats, birds, zoo animals, other drivers, her boss, her co-workers? There is no room in this sort of story for more than minimal descriptions, and even then it has to be through the character’s prejudices. Cool, huh?

As I learn more about this new for me genre, I’ll post more about it. I, for one, am looking forward to reading this book!

Terrible Revision

Inside the Model Train Museum in San Diego (Surprise! Not Europe!)
Inside the Model Train Museum in San Diego (Surprise! Not Europe!)

Last year some time I came across a blog titled Terribleminds, written by a writer named Chuck Wendig. I liked his style, so I’ve since bought a few of his books, and also I follow him on Twitter. Since the election of Donald Trump, Chuck has been almost apoplectic at times, although he’s mellowed down to a menacing growl (comparatively) after his initial reaction. The story I’m going to discuss is that some people write to him and tell him that he should stick to handing out writing advice (which he does do very well.) Naturally, this encouraged a response. It is the evolution of that response that I’m writing about today.

It began as a thread on Twitter. It was a series of disconnected if related impressions, and others were free to chime in as well. (I just looked and it seems to be located here. This guy tweets more than Trump on the campaign trail.) The final product is located over here.  Feel free to refer to the originals, but be warned that they might be upsetting to certain political viewpoints. This is Wednesday, and I don’t do anything but writing on Wednesday, so I will state for the record that I neither endorse nor oppose the views expressed, which remain those of the various authors.

But, as I was saying, The thread on Twitter was sort of like a series of quick notes (heck, at 140 characters, that’s all you get, anyway.) It was a “thread,” in that it sort of hung together and if one read carefully one could extract a coherent theme from it. But, that was all. Nobody’s ever going to win a Nobel prize for a Twitter thread, I’m fairly certain. But, the blog post is a different story. It is coherent, (it has only one author,) it can be followed like a story instead of one of those odd Japanese comic books, and it makes its points clearly and succinctly. What changed?

Revision! That thread, if you will, is a first draft! Like any first draft, it needs some work! But, unlike some first drafts, it got some work. Lots of it. It looks casual, almost flippant, but you can bet Mr. Wendig put some thought and sweat some blood in getting it just right. He’s like that. He saw a story in a Twitter thread (sure, a short one) and he made it real. All by revising that first draft.

No story is done in one draft. My first drafts are so bad that I show them to nobody. Sometimes not even myself. How about yours?

Feeling a Draft?

The important thing about being a writer is writing, obviously. If you want to tell a story, the only thing to do is to start telling it. But, nobody that I know of can write a good story in one pass. Sure, you’d like to think that Shakespears knocked out Hamlet over a weekend, but in fact it took him a very long time. Which means that the thing you are going to knock out over the weekend, or week, or month, or however long it takes (longer than any of that for me) is your first draft.

The salient feature of my first drafts is that they are terrible. I try to keep the voices consistent, but I’ve yet to actually do that. I try not to have contradictions in the action, but, well, you know, I’ve never done that either. So, in essence, although a first draft can be a lot of fun, and I truly enjoy putting up things for my characters to (usually) fail at, the result of all that fun and games isn’t anything I’d want anyone but myself to read. Ever. Of course, unlike, say, Twain, who revised right on the original manuscript, I save versions as Word files as I go along, so I suppose that at some point in the future, unless I get up the ambition to delete a lot of stuff, future generations of scholars will marvel at my sheer incompetence. But, that aside, nobody reads my first draft. Nobody.

The second draft is usually the one where I actually do work on the characters’ voices until they are consistent and in character. Honestly, the first draft sounds like I’m at a read-through reading all of the parts. Not that interesting. But, hey, things improve with age, including my revised manuscripts.

With the second, and consequent, drafts, I keep adding things that weren’t in the plot, or the characterization, the first time through. Honestly, sometimes what’s finally ready to be reviewed and critiqued looks like a completely different story, written by a completely different author. And it still, of course, is not ready for prime time.

But, lucky me, I’ve learned to enjoy the revision as much as the origination. Sure, it’s fun to make up new stuff, but it’s also fun to hone it into something folks will want to buy. (Oh, please, let them want to buy!)

If you have a drafting and revision quirk you’d like to share, put it in a comment below. I approve everything that isn’t obvious spam. Looking forward to hearing from you!

The Brooklyn Bridge

Into It?

*** I was into enough yesterday that I forgot to post anything of my own. Thanks, Leslie and Andrew, for filling in. I guess. ***

Actually, I forgot that it was Wednesday. I get distracted easily, which is one of the drawbacks of the mostly positive thing misnamed ADD. Disorder, my foot! But, be that at it may, it does illustrate the theme of this post.

A few days ago I started drafting a new book. I’d forgotten how much fun drafting a new book is! Even though parts of the process can be tedious. Namely things like outlining, describing characters, and other things that just turn out to be a Word document on my hard drive. Of course, after I’m famous, and gone, archivists will have a wonderful time sorting through all of my old notes, so, really, besides developing a novel, I’m performing a public service!*

But, truth be told, writing the first draft is the most fun. I’ve read quotes from a bunch of folks to the effect that you write with your heart, then revise with your head. And I’ve never liked rules, so getting to follow my lies around by heart makes me feel good. And frequently what comes out is written very badly, but it’s a story. Once I have a story, I can tweak it (oh, twenty times or so) until it’s told well enough that someone might actually pay for the privilege of reading it. (I only write commercial prose. Somebody else can plumb the depths of the human experience.)

So I’m feeling pretty good this week: off on a new adventure with some new people who are, as they always do, doing more of what they want to do than paying attention to what I need in the story.

Where do those characters come from, anyway? <grin>

The Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Image is in the public domain (Pixabay)

*If you believe that, check out the bridge I have for sale!