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Author Topic: First Drafts  (Read 2420 times)

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Bob Mueller

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First Drafts
« on: October 15, 2006, 01:09:17 PM »

Date:         Wednesday, December 23, 1998 07:05 PM

BookMarc #7
First Drafts

Okay, we talked a bit about first drafts, but now we are down into it. And, as always, this is only my best cut and not meant to be the definitive instruction on the subject.

As I mentioned in the last Bookmark, the first draft is to get it all down. We might think of it as a really extensive and detailed outline, but also a complete one. Once we have written the last line we can take a breath of joy in knowing we have the keel and ribs for our tome to set sail. Not the skin yet, and maybe not the driving force, but the first draft gives the final product it's form.

If we started with an outline, now is the time to put it aside. If we allow our first draft to be ruled by a Hitler- outline, we will go goose-stepping along, ignoring logic, rig idly focusing on a planned ending, and probably doomed to the same fate as the Third Reich lasting a thousand years. Oh yeah.

A more American way is to go with the flow, hang loose, see where the road takes us. For example, in KILLING THYME, the sequel to BLOODY BONSAI, I knew when I started the first draft who the killer should be, and why, and I had one person already knocked off before the start, but as I moved along I decided it would be nice to do someone else in. Bump off another guy? Hey, it's not as good as sex, but it does get the blood flowing. And the more I thought about it, the more opportunities I had for people to be guilty of something, so that in the end more than one player headed out for Bar City. If I had stuck to the original outline the story would not be half so interesting, and perhaps would have bogged down for lack of enthusiasm.

In fact, the sin of first drafts is also their saving grace. They are garbage. But since we don't have to worry about get ting everything right, we can relax, kick off our shoes, air out our toes, and let our imaginations run free, knowing full well we'll have plenty of time to correct things later on.

The big problem with changing things as we go along is that it's more work. If half way through our story we need our heros to sit at a bar in the same restaurant where they ate in chapter two, we have to go back and add the bar to our description of the restaurant. If you say in chapter 24, "They walked into the bar of George's Cafe that they hadn't seen before," you might get by, but it's sloppy and contrived, and the reader wonders how come you didn't know it was there. Are you stupid? But if we slip in a sentence in chapter two, the reader eases on in w/o a blink. The same if you change a woman from nordic blonde to a chocolate skinned West Indian. You can't say her makeup washed off to reveal... What if your story works better if you change your murder weapon from a knife to a bazooka? Sam pulled out his knife, which was really a bazooka, and blasted a hole in the Ford Ranger, which was really a battleship. Oh yeah. We'll talk about setups and payoffs in a future BookMarc.

For now, if we make a change, we have to go back and reflect this in the early chapter. We can do it immediately or make a note to do it at the end of the first draft. Since I am always on a hell-ride to complete FIRST DRAFT, I make a note and keep on charging. Who knows, I might change back to the original before I'm finished. But we better keep notes or we'll forget, and inconsistences will turn our readers off faster then a three-day-dead fish being eaten by a skunk on a hot summer day.

Rather than fool with handwritten notes, I have an extra file I keep open to handle things like: names of characters; brief descriptions; things I need to go back and change; snip pets for future chapters; and stuff--names of restaurants, protagonist's car, phone number, anything I might later need to refer. It's far easier to jump to this file in chapter 22, for the name of a character I haven't seen since chapter three, than it is for me to go through line by line till I find it. And this file can be invaluable should we go on to write a sequel. I call this note file, Things. You may call it, George.

And since the holidays are on us, may your God, whatever you call him, bless you this season with the joy of friends and family.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch, BookMarc February 13, 1998

Date:    Monday, December 28, 1998 08:18 PM

Iím like you. All Iím hoping for in a first draft is to get from first line to the end, and pray the word count falls somewhere between 40K and 100K, and hopefully between 70K and 90K, then I know I have a novel. A really shot novel is 40K, minimum, and 60k+ is more like it. Most publishers donít want a novel over 100K, especially a first novel. It just means more costs and that much more of a chance on a new author. But like anything else, something well done will always break the rules.

Once I have my first draft written I go back and write character outlines for everyone, change names if two characters are close, and then go though with my notes cleaning stuff up and putting in setups. Then I start going through and smoothing things out.
That about the way you do it?

Date:    Wednesday, December 30, 1998 08:09 PM


Where did all you guys come from? I'm poking along with a post or two and all of a sudden, whamo! But it's great having you all respond. Man, you all are stimulating.

I'm going to try to answer questions in order, Judith, Elena, Jane, Bob, Edie, Caro, Toby, Marie, and Kacy.

Judith, about doing character outlines before or after. From an impromptu survey I've done, writers are split about half and half on this. Whatever works for you.

Elena with Postits on the board. That's great. All you have to do is look up and the it is. Did we talk about story boards yet? That's just a continuance of what you are saying. With computer glasses and not a close place to look at a board, shifting over to another monitor screen, where I paste all my book notes, works best for me. Ya pays ya money and ya takes ya cherce.

Jane, Bob, Edie, and Caro:

I think I mentioned that the trouble with first drafts is (are?) also their saving grace. That is, all first drafts are garbage anyway, so we shouldn't worry about how good it is. Which is another way of saying, Edie, that you give yourself permission to write badly.

As for writing pieces of story and then plugging in--big fight scene here--and moving on, that's also okay. Just remember that eventually you'll have to come back and write it someday. We all have to work the we can.

But I don't do it that way.

When I go though a first draft I try to get everything in all that comes to me as I'm putting it down. I won't deliberately leave out a scene. Why? I'll just have to write a first draft it later on. If I struggle through it now it will be ready for polishing when I come back to it. If I have a fun scene I want to write, that will be my reward for struggling through the toughies. But if I missed something, I'll make a note and keep on trucking. When I finish that first draft I want to have as complete a picture of the novel as I can, but maybe, as Bob says, in black and white rather than full color. The characters will lack depth. Descriptions will be sketchy. The writing will be clunky, the weather, the clothes, the time of day and year, will only be obliquely referred to if at all.
Now I go back and fill in the color.

Toby, Marie, and Kacy:

To state the obvious, if you don't finish the first draft, you don't have a book, story, novelette, whatever. And if you don't have a complete story, why polish what you have? And because the plot line will change as we move through the novel anyway, the scenes we keep polishing may end up on the cutting room floor.

But once you have the completed first draft, ah, now you have something. You can sit back for one night of celebra tion and have a can of seawater knowing you have accom plished writing a story, novel, whatever. Now you are ready for all the polishing and perfection.

Lastly--whew, I never thought I'd get here--as for getting all the details down for the reader up front, that's not the start of the story. Most beginning writers start their story one chapter too soon. You probably need all that material, so it's not wasted, but it is background, like Jane doing her character outlines first. The writer might need to know what happened before the story started, the backstory, but the reader needs only that which is necessary to make sense of what's happening as the story unfolds. And this you fill in as you go along. Does that make sense?

Write the first draft.

Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Date:    Saturday, January 02, 1999 04:10 AM


Allow me to quote Anne Lamott from her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD, which I recommend, BTW.

"I know some very great writers, writers who love to write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and NOT one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right. One of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her."

Perhaps I over stated that first drafts are garbage. If we're going to latch onto semantics here instead of the idea, we'll get bogged down. Of course I write the best first draft I can. I never sit down at the keyboard with the intention of writing garbage. But I know when the first draft is finished, I have the essence of my novel, essence in both forms, all of the main weaving is there, but it also is a little smelly. My job is to make every word fit into place.

Without implying anyone here is doing otherwise, let me repeat that, without implying anyone is doing otherwise, I think I would do a disservice to fairly novice writers to imply a first draft is anywhere near ready for publishing. It usually appears that way, but that's because I don't think we have the experience to bring feeling and mood and shades of color into our writing at this stage.

And once again, folks, go back to the beginning. I only give you my best cut here. I am not infallible. Well, not really. And yes, whatever works works.

Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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