It’s been almost a year since I finished the first draft of my current work-in-progress. During the ensuing months, I worked on a second draft that went way off track.
I conned myself into believing I was moving forward, but instead I fell flat on my face.
So, here I am, back in chapter one, getting ready for draft number three. This time, I’m fairly certain, I’m back on the right track. “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you.
I subscribe to the belief that you should write a complete first draft before editing. So, I wrote the story, and I kept writing it and I kept writing it – even when I had no idea where it was going – I kept at it. Eventually, I figured out who the bad guy was, and discovered the dramatic, dark moment. I finished the book. And the truth is, it sucks! Not just a little – a lot. The plot line went way over the top and included a few farcical plot twists. Don’t get me wrong – I love the story and the characters, just not the writing. But, that’s okay. Good story and likeable characters are the main point of first draft.
I wrote drunk, exactly as suggest by Sam Havens, Professor Emeritus at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. (Not inebriated; uninhibited.) I gave myself permission to ignore everything but the story. I finished the book. The middle was sagging, but the skeleton was in place. And that is what first draft is all about; turning off the inner-editor and letting the words flow without censor. Write all the farcical, totally-over-top ‘stuff’ that builds the skeleton. Ignore everything that isn’t story.
I like the drunk part! I love to follow characters down the primrose path and into the realm of What The Hell. (primrose path: a path of ease or pleasure and especially sensual pleasure: a path of least resistance). Every day is a new and exciting adventure as I open the document and wait to see what happens next. What will today’s adventure reveal? I become intimately involved with the characters and try to turn them into three-dimensional people. I throw problems at them, put obstacles in their path and I love finding out how they are going to rise to every challenge. But eventually, like all good things, the adventure must reach The End.
And that’s when the work starts, at least for me — the not so fun part. Editing.
Editing is the reason my second draft died on the vine. I found a way to avoid the part I don’t like, yet still convince myself I was making progress. Instead of fixing what needed fixing, I started retelling the same story, in just a slightly different way. Not a better way. Not even a very good way. Just a different way. And that is not what subsequent drafts are about.
Second draft, or third or fourth or tenth, is an opportunity to polish the words on the page. Find the plot holes, get the smoking gun off the mantle and challenge every word. The story is already there. Don’t retell it, fix it.
Donald Mass says there should be conflict on every page. Did I do that?
Chris Voglers’s, Writers Journey identifies basic story structure – ordinary world, call to adventure, the point of no return, the dark moment – have I covered all the basics?
Cheryl Bolen edits to include all of the senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing – are they there?
Donna Maloy taught me about man speak – is my hero too verbose?
Pictures need to be painted, stages set, direction applied. Now it matters what clothes people are wearing and how hot it is outside. I have to write the transitions to replace the ‘note to self – move them from Point A to Point B’. Talking head scenes must go. The birds have to sing, the flowers have to smell and the hero has to have the same color of eyes on page three-hundred as he did on page twenty.
Now is the time to worry about having the word ‘she’ starting every other paragraph, to ferret out the run-on sentences, the overuse of adjectives, and follow all the basic rules of good grammar.
This feels like homework. I hate homework! I don’t want to do the hard stuff.
I don’t want to think about Strunk & White and their Elements of Style.
I’d rather shove the first draft in a box, ignore the homework and start a new project.
Except, I can’t do that anymore because some demented, I’m-not-sure-what-the-hell-I-was-thinking part of me challenged my friends to an ice-bucket challenge! If I don’t do my homework, write the next draft and work toward getting this book publish ready, I’m going to get ice-water poured over my head. Again. And again after that. And again after that.
To avoid the dunking, I have to achieve the goal I set for myself. I have to go word-by-word and do all that stuff I talked about. I also need to write a synopsis (much easier, now that I’ve finished the story, but still not fun). I want a scene-by-scene outline to help me trim the fat and firm the muscles. I, have, to, worry, about, the, damn, commas.
That demented part of my brain – let’s call it my evil-twin – has managed to hold me accountable. I finished the story – now I have to finish the book. Can anyone recommend a good locksmith? I want to lock my evil-twin in the dungeon!
Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!