Monday, May 19, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - tip #9 - Tackling Your First Draft

Now that you have the story idea, characters, and you've mapped out the major plot points, it's time to start writing that first draft.
To use CLOCKWISE as an example. The premise is a teen girl who is also a time traveler, a condition she can't control and she simply has to learn how to manage it. Her deep need/want is to be normal, something she'll never be. In order to cope with this affliction she stays under the radar. Doesn't hang with popular people or purposely excel in any area, though she could. This doesn't bother her because I gave her these characteristics: a twiggy, tall body and unruly hair, so she has self-image issues. Being invisible suits her just fine. She has a crush on a hot football player, and without thinking jumps to catch his football while watching a scrimmage. Now she's not invisible. Now she's the star of the moment. It's a bad time to time-travel.
So, take that kind of information and just start writing. Vomit words onto the page. Ideas come as you go. Some of them will be great and some with hit the cutting room floor, but it doesn't matter. Don't worry if it's good, because it's probably not. Being good is not the point of the first draft. The point is making clay. You need raw material to work with, something you can later poke and prod and massage into a masterpiece.
But that's not what you're doing now. With the first draft, you're making clay.
See that big white blank screen? Type something on it. Even if it's these words: I don't know what I'm going to write now, and this is crap, but I will write something, the first words that come to my mind....
Maybe it's just finger exercise, but it's something and eventually you'll write something useful. I promise.
When writing your first draft, try thinking in scenes rather than chapters. I usually ask myself the question, what happens next? Sometimes you have to go and do something physical like shoot hoops or clean your room, and while your body is busy, your mind can unlock the next scene--the setting, the people, the situation, and what your characters are saying. When you see it in your head, go to the computer and write it down.
And repeat.
What I don't do in the first draft is worry too much about  deep character development or minor details I just think, What happens next? I'm making clay.
This process takes several weeks. Even months. (And months)
When I'm done my first draft, when I have a big pile of molding material, I let it sit for a while. Put it in a big plastic bag so it doesn't dry out (figuratively speaking), eat something with chocolate in it. Give my brain a break; because soon, I turn from the clay maker to the sculptor, and for that, I need a whole new tool-box of tools.
What happens if you don't make clay? Or enough clay? You get hung up re-writing the first half (quarter?) of your book over and over again. You hit the wall because the beginning is never good enough and you can't press through to the end-or you've painted yourself into a corner plot wise, because the beginning is nailed down and it forces your book to stay on a certain track when it would be better for the story to take an unplanned turn.
See what I'm saying?


What do I mean by leaving the details until later? For instance, one school of thought (and this is perfectly fine, it's just not my method), is to write a heavy outline beforehand where you as the writer know practically every scene until the end before you start writing. People who take this approach often like to do thorough character sketches pre first draft as well. They'll have a long list of questions for their character like what's their favorite color, season, childhood memory, greatest want/fear/disappointment, etc. Again, if this is your style-go for it!
I'll tell you why it's not for me. In my experience, I can't know the character that well before I start. In fact, I'm only getting to know my characters as I write my first draft. How can I know at the offset what they like to eat for breakfast?
The characters reveal themselves as I write. A lot of the plot will reveal itself as I write the first draft as well.
So, though I don't go into the first draft with all this information on an excel sheet or flow chart, I'm watching for it as I write. I'm paying attention.
Going back to CLOCKWISE as an example. When I started, I thought the brother would play a much larger role than he actually ended up playing (so he's getting more of the stage in the sequel), one of the secondary characters that I thought would be more of a filler, ended up being a key plot point character, and I had the wrong guy in mind for the villain. I didn't know it when I started writing, but the real villain revealed himself as I went, and I had an "Aha" moment which required quite a lot of re-writing but made the book much stronger.
In another story of mine, the boy who made up the love triangle turned out to have much softer edges than I first imagined when I started writing.
What I'm trying to say is, though I'm making clay, I try to envision the sculpture underneath as I make it. It's like watching the image of a Polaroid shot come into focus. It's not instant, like digital images are. It takes time.
Once I'm finished my first draft, I take time to sort out the characters, their motivations, deep felt needs and over all character arc. I look for all my subplots and the arc of my main plot.
But not until I'm done the first draft.
In the next post we'll discuss the importance of tension and raising the stakes.

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