In the last post, Tackling the First Draft, we talked about how putting words on the page is like making clay—creating malleable material that you can later sculpt through revisions. It’s not important in this stage to be good, but you’ll find that the more experience you have writing first drafts, the better quality your clay becomes.
We also talked about picturing the sculpture underneath the clay. Though details and outlines up front are sometimes helpful, it’s not always the case. Story and character arcs are often revealed as you write and it’s your job to pay attention.
Another thing to pay attention to as you’re crafting your first draft is making sure you are creating tension and raising the stakes. You know how I mentioned in the last chapter that you are always asking yourself, what happens next? You don’t want to fall into the trap of this happened and then this happened and this happened. You can’t just give us a day by day accounting of your characters life. Each event has to happen for a reason.
You also don't want to take us step by step from scene to scene, unless it's necessary to the story. If one scene ends with your main character fighting with her best friend at school, and the next scene has her at home in her room creeping her friend's facebook page you don't have to take us on the bus ride, talk to her little brother, have a snack and go to the bathroom first. Just write a transition sentence, ie: Later in my room...Afterschool, I booted up my old laptop...etc.
You’ll remember the three act structure from tip#2, The Bones It Hangs On. Here is a version of it on a 45 degree angle.
Each scene, each plot point all way to the climax must raise the stakes for your character.
Picture your character building a snow ball while rolling it up hill. The bigger it gets, the higher the angle the more difficult life becomes for your character until ultimately, he or she gets to toss the thing off the cliff—also known as the climax.
Conflict builds tension, whether it’s inner conflict or external.
The expected thing is not the thing that should happen. To quote literary agent Donald Maass, “Tension on every page.”
Back to our example story of TWILIGHT; you’re hard pressed to find a scene that isn’t wracked with tension. Even just sitting next to a guy in a biology class has tension popping off the page. Bella is in constant threat just hanging out with Edward and his family, and the whole town is threatened (even if they don’t know it) by the arrival of the new clan of vampires. And then these two clans get into it--it’s non stop, climbing tension.
Everything happens for a reason. Each scene is necessary to propel the story forward. Life must get increasingly difficult for your protagonist.
You will probably write scenes in your first draft that don’t raise the stakes and have to be cut later on and that’s all right for now as you write your first draft. Just keep in mind that while you’re writing it, you want to go up hill.