Monday, June 8, 2015

First Draft: A Process of Evolution

For June, we get to talk about the glorious first draft phase of writing a novel. I love first drafts! Until I hate them. But today, I'm just going to write about the fun part: beginning.

The sparkly new idea begins like a flower, a bud full of possibility. I wait for it to open a bit before I sit down to write, but as soon as I can see the unfolding of petals, I begin.

My bud looks like a title and a main character with a challenge, so I have a big job ahead of me. I have to flesh out the setting (my kryptonite), other characters, and their full character arcs.

I begin with Save the Cat beat sheets. That's my initial pre-writing. Usually, I have to do this more than once because the first one isn't completely right. It takes me a while to put those pieces together. At the same time, I allow myself to have some fun with character dialogue, as I mentioned in my Pre-writing post last month.

By the time I have these snippets of dialogue and a beat sheet, I have a pretty good idea how my story is going to go. I'm excited. I'm filled with the sense of mission that goes with a new project.

Following my beat sheet/outline, I start at the beginning. I try to follow the advice of The First Five Pages by avoiding passive language, starting with a lead-in to the main conflict, and keeping a feeling of forward motion.

But beyond that, I let myself go a little bit. I have my beat sheet within easy access but I am not its slave. It's my servant. I let the dialogue take me to places the beat sheet wasn't quite prepared for, and I edit the beat sheet as I go. I'm more of a pantser at heart.

About midway through the novel, I hit my crisis. The best way for me to describe this moment is to use a running analogy. During a race of 3 miles or longer, there is a wall. Pushing through that wall is the hardest part of the race, but if I just stick it out, the wall is behind me and then comes euphoria, the runner's high. I feel the same thing once I've worked through the plot issues, the character inconsistencies, or the general malaise of being almost done. On the other side of that wall is the feeling of completion.

The in-between-the-wall portion of my first draft writing is the time I get up from the computer. I have to sit at the dining table staring off into space, or think about the big picture while I shower. I have to let it simmer until the flavors magically merge into something wonderful.

And when I type the final words of the final chapter, it feels amazing. I post it to facebook and twitter and celebrate with ginger ale. And I don't even look at it again... for a while.

Because the time for revision will come, and it will come all too soon. Then I'll see all the flaws afresh. But for now, I just get to enjoy the creation of something that didn't exist before, something that I willed into being.

That's my first draft, baby!

How do you first draft?


  1. Every time, I try to use the beat sheet to pre-plan and outline. there's so much I just don't know. The whole pre-outline thing makes me itch all over. What's worked so far is more of a character beat sheet with the progression the main characters need to make, their flaw, biggest fear, and change. That way I can write the plot around their progression, and the pre-work reminds me to stay focused. I just can't pre-plan a whole plot ahead of time.

    1. I love that. A character focus is best anyway, I feel, since character arcs weave together to form the story arc.

  2. Love hearing about your process! I don't plan much in advance except for the biggest plot points, but I often wish I did since it would avoid a lot of the re-writing I have to do. I need to look into the beat sheets that you mentioned.

    1. I love the beat sheets because they help me to anticipate what my story is going to need to feel like a complete arc, returning to the beginning but with a transformation of the main characters from their initial weaknesses. I still have to do rewriting, though. :(


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