Monday, August 27, 2012

A map to writing the first draft: Does it exist?

We've all heard it before. Writing each book is a different process.

I always thought this was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, every book is different, but how many different ways are there to write a book? Oh, sweet naive little writer.

What does your path to a first draft look like? Source

Now that I'm working on my third novel length manuscript, I wonder if I'll ever find a method that works for me.

I can tell you right now, that my current process is not the one.

I started writing this manuscript with a basic beat sheet. I had the general outline for the major plot points that needed to happen, but left the details open for inspiration to guide me as I wrote. Unfortunately, I got 20K words in and realized I'd written 20K words of unusable material.

The problem?

I wrote the draft in third person past tense and it really needs to be first person present. Also, I concentrated too much effort on the plot and didn't spend enough time on character development. So, not only did the story feel wrong, but the characters were falling flat and lifeless.

To fix it, I've gone back and done detailed character sketches for my MCs. Now, I have a better understanding of the histories that make them who they are and the motivations that will push them through the book. Yeah!

I've also done a story board to make sure that those motivations drive the action of the story so my characters don't spend 300 pages only reacting to their world. Because an interesting character should drive the action, not the other way around.

So now what?

I went back to the beginning and rewrote the first chapter. It's not perfect, but it's a much better opening. I'm also going back through what I wrote before to figure out what can be saved. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't fit anymore, but at least some of it can go back in (once I change the tense and POV).

Next time, I have to remember that plotting and character development is not an either/or option. I'll also take a pause around 5K words to make sure I'm not wasting time writing in the wrong POV or tense.

Maybe one day I'll have a fool proof process that makes drafting easier. Until then, I'll keep chugging away and learning something new each time.

So what's your process? Do you change things up each time or have your found your secret sauce for drafting?

15 comments:

  1. Seems as if everyone has to go back and write their first couple of chapters. These days, I write maybe two experimentally free chapters, and then I do a detailed outline and character sketches before I write more. Saves a lot of wasted time.

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    1. Yep! I don't know many folks who end up keeping their first chapter. I hate doing character outlines, but I know that I need to at least understand their past and their motivations before I can write about them.

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  2. My process is a little different for each book. I always start by jotting down plot and character ideas until the story is pretty much in my head. But once I sit down and type, I let the characters direct me. Sometimes I start at the end and then go back to the beginning. Other times I write straight through. And still other times I jump around. My only set formula is not to fight my characters. It's there story and if they need to tell part of it right then and there even though it won't happen for seven chapters, I let them.

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    1. Writing out of order is something I struggle with. I usually write a really rough end at the start of each project, but then stick to chronological order.

      But this group of characters keep talking to me about scenes that happen much later. I've been jotting stuff down to make sure I don't lose it, but it feels a bit like cheating. :)

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  3. The first draft is always about exploring, both the characters and the plot. Honestly, the first draft is never really the first draft because you can't fully know your characters until you've finished that draft. So the second draft is really the first draft because you finally know what you need to know in order to get down a solid baseline, which is my definition of a first draft. Erm...I hope that made sense. :)

    Honestly, I don't think there is ever one map that can get you from blank page to first draft because it's all about exploring and figuring out your characters and plot. Once you've got a good grasp of those things, then you can follow a more predictable process. At least, that's how it's worked for me over the years. :)

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    1. So true, and a fact that no one ever told me in all my years of schooling.

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  4. I am in final re-writes of my work-in-progress and your posts always seem to help me in my struggles. I, too, am figuring out works best for me - outline or no outline. I want an outline to help me, but it seems to put me in my head more. I think there's got to be an ideal place somewhere in the middle.

    (By the way, I tweeted your last blog post when it came out - five ways to generate ideas for the middle of a story - and one of my Twitter fans re-tweeted! I was excited.)

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    1. Linda, so glad I can help, though I just write about the stuff I'm struggling with, too. Thanks for all the RT action!

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  5. I think every story requires a different approach. For me, it depends on how evolved the story is at the beginning whether I jump in or outline. The first draft is great because it could go so many different ways. =)

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    1. yep, all those different directions are what usually get me in trouble. :)

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  6. I usually start with characters, gather the setting and what's happening, or the possible plot that sometimes changes. Make a vision board to remind myself what the characters look like and their names, etc. I'm very forgetful. Then I start writing. Oh, yes, the beginning may change many times as new ideas are added to the story. It's all exciting though. And like others have said, each story is a bit different. Nice post.

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    1. Plotting is my weakest point in the story so I'm trying to be more diligent about getting this down before I let my characters run wild.

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  7. I've yet to luck upon a single formula. I keep exploring different approaches to see what fits best. With my current story, I started with a brief outline, beat sheet and character Q&A. Then I started writing. I know most of the words won't survive (as they shouldn't!), but first drafting is where I find voice. If it's too regimented, the voice suffers.

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  8. I've found that as well. If I try to force myself into scenes they feel forced. No voice at all.

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  9. Sarah - you didn't do it "wrong." There is no wrong. A first draft is like a super-detailed outline. There will be times when you know things aren't working and you have to do just what you did - go back and fix it. Rewrite it. Re-plan it. Change it. That's the only way to begin creating the book you have in your head.
    Good luck!

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