Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The dreaded first draft...

Plugging away at the new novel. I've found a title but for the first time since I started writing 15 years ago, I don't have a fix on the ending. I usually know how a story opens and how it ends. Today I had a glimmer of where my character is going but I'm not sure.

I don't write from an outline because it never, ever works. I'll spend days outlining a story only to have the whole thing go off the rails as soon as I begin writing. These days I begin with a character and try to follow the character's trajectory to the end.

But first drafts are hard. So much is unknown at this stage. Some writers edit as they go along or go back over the previous days work to carry them forward. I write in scenes. Once I know a bit about the character and what his or her problem is, the scenes start to take shape in my mind when I'm walking or doing housework. I write them down in longhand. Each scene reveals a bit more about character which in turn drives the plot. But as the plot isn't clear at this stage, lots of writing is done in the full knowledge most of it will be chucked out.

The first draft is called the Discovery Draft for a reason. The term is from The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (Dell Publishing, 1994), a book I stumbled across when I first started writing and have used as a reference ever since. Ray breaks down the challenge of writing a novel, explains plotting using Aristotle's Incline and the value of writing your novel in scenes. He covers a number of other facets of the process one weekend at a time, and does so in clear, concise language.

Here's the power of words: by calling the first draft the Discovery Draft, I am liberated from needing to know what I'm doing. Whenever I'm tempted to figure it out, I remind myself this is a discovery, an adventure. Just keep writing and soon you'll know what you're writing about.

This is a challenge. Tossing a thousand words a day into the computer with the vague idea they'll add up to a story one day in the distant future is crazy.

But the even crazier thing is that they always do!

1 comment:

  1. I too think in scenes, likely a result of all the play analysis, acting and script-writing I did on my way to a Theatre degree. Sometimes I can worry around a scene in my head for days or even weeks, figuring out the dramatic arc, character motivations and so on. It feels like I'm going nowhere... until I sit down to write and the whole thing falls together on the screen with almost no more effort.

    My starting point in thinking about a first draft is almost always the crime, with characters' lives expanding and overlapping around that central connecting element. First drafts still suck, though.

    Jayne Barnard