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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Your First Draft to The Finish Line.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, in the spirit of authors everywhere just getting started, in the spirit of sharing and in the spirit of first drafts, I have decided to give you something, dear readers.

I am going to share with you my strategy for getting words on paper or -- let's not be archaic -- on screen.

I know, I know. You've been waiting for me to share my wisdom. I am clearly a prodigy of the word count, what with my 50,000 word novel and all. (Hey, didn't you say it was 57,000 words? Indeed, but that was before I cut it in two. Remember?)

Now that we've established my astonishing credentials, let's get serious.

It's hard to say what's the more daunting part of writing, getting the first words down or getting through the editing. Editing is certainly more time consuming and takes more precision. But the first draft -- excuse my Minnesotan, but oofta.

The first draft requires raw power and force of will and pure steam that the editing process does not. Editing is surgery, with precision and consideration, sharp tools that you wield deftly and cautiously. The first draft is the club that you use to knock your patient out before the surgery begins. It is clunky, unwieldy and might take some training to be able to handle -- because it is big and you may just not be able to lift it yet.

Editng: precise, careful, and done by clean, attractive stock photography models.

And the first draft: you're basically just Captain Caveman.

Anyway, the first draft and NaNoWriMo (done properly) is just about getting words on a page (screen). Laying out some groundwork, a general structure of events, some character development, and perhaps even the occasional, accidental linguistic gem. (Which would be the opposite of the previous sentence. Yikes.) And there are some tricks out there for just getting through it.

Without further ado, here are mine.

  1. Write a lot on the first day, and don't worry about sequence.
    Day 1 is usually the easy day. You've got a lot in you, you've done some planning, you're ready to charge forward. Go for it! Write as much as you can get to paper on day 1. But more importantly, don't worry about sequence. Write up some scenes without stressing too much about the connective tissue. This can be filled in later. Getting the big stuff down gives you direction, and also gives you a task for later days when you're just not sure what to write anymore.
  2. Don't be afraid of tangents!
    Okay, maybe the 10 paragraphs about how to carry a bucket of water isn't going to make it into your final draft *coughWHODOESTHATcough* but tangents can take you places that you may never hae planned -- and that can be a good thing. Now, keep it under control -- don't get so derailed that you can't find your way back to the tracks. But don't be afraid to do a little offroading just to see where it takes you. (Metaphors again? Yes. Metaphors forever).
  3. The story within a story thing worked for Shakespeare, you think you're better than Shakespeare?
    I doubt the bard was participating in NaNoWriMo (or ScriptFrenzy) when he wrote the craftmen's play into A Midsummer Night's Dream, but don't let that phase you. Stories within stories are a great way to develop your character and even build your worldscape. Thing about telling a story about a thing in the world, sharing a piece of the culture's mythology or religion, or just telling us more about the characters' pasts. This can be good information just to have in your pocket as you continue writing, or maybe there's even a place for it in the final draft. Writing up a mythology for your world will make it more real for you, which will make it more believable for the reader. Plus, word count bolster! Right, 'wrimos??
  4. Allow your characters to do nothing.
    Sometimes you should allow you characters to do nothing. Not every action needs to be a plot point. Much like you, your characters may do things out of boredom, duty or for no damned reason at all. Allowing your characters to so nothing is going to allow them to be more human, and give you the opportunity to slow down and get the reader familiar with your characters.
  5. Have your characters to do something stupid.
    Much like you, sometimes your characters will mess up. These mistakes are a great way to provide more information about who your character is and what their situation is by showing how thy and others react. Don't make your character flawless. For one, that's boring. And for B, allowing your character to be stupid will give you more important moments in the novel that don't derail the story.
  6. Write the ending and save the hows for later.
    My biggest difficulty as a writer has always been not getting bored with what I'm writing. I'm pretty much replaying the whole story in my head every time I sit down. But one way I've learned to get over this is to get the ending down on paper. Not immediately -- maybe about three quarters of the way through the process. That's when I usually hit a wall. Getting the ending down on paper marks the finish line. I can see it, I know exactly where I'm heading. Now it's time to power through and get there. Of course, once you get there you can choose to change it or add more, but setting down the marker makes the final spring t of the race that much easier.

So tell me, writers, 'wrimo-ers and readers alike: what is your first draft strategy? How do you get the words out?

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