First drafts

A NaNoWriMo post, and my personal take on what a first draft should do:

When I start a new book, I open a file, and start writing at random. I pick a scene that inspires me, and when inspiration runs out, I move to another scene. Note how I didn’t say ‘the next scene’? Because the scene can be anywhere, either before or after the one I’ve just written, or maybe even a lot further in the book. Finished? Next scene. There is no order, although eventually I will place the scene in the order in which I think they will go.

If I get stuck and run out of inspiration, I’ll do one of a few things:
– I drop back to a previous scene, and start adding a whole lot of internal monologue to justify why the character did whatever he/she did
– look at the scene balance. Too many talky scenes? I’ll write a shoot-out, or a car chase, or something entirely different. I may not yet know why this happens, and I may not be using the right characters, but I’ll write the scene anyway, because it will form a focus point for earlier parts: this is where the characters have to end up
– I’ll put two characters in a a room and let them talk. Anything goes, but inevitably they’ll start talking about relevant things, and reveal their feelings, and once those feelings become clear, I’ll often realise what I should have done in earlier scenes.
– Write an infodump. Never mind that infodumps are to be avoided, sometimes it really clears the mind to say out loud that so-and-so is such-and-such because of this-and-that.

Right, so by the time I finish, the first draft is a jumble of scenes that may or may not be in the right order, that have far too much internal monologue and other infodumping and that have quite a lot of dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere. But! I know now why my characters are doing things, and what their background is, and I know which parts of plot logica I’m missing. The first draft is for sorting out the character motivations, the plot logic and scene balance, although a first draft will have none of those things.


4 comments on “First drafts

  1. WOW. I’ve heard it all before: “It’s not perfect,” “you don’t have to write in chronological order,” and on and on. But the way you worded it, I really understood it. I think you saved my NaNoWriMo novel this year (and maybe even my future as an author). Thank you so much!

  2. Exactly the way I work. I’ve heard it described as being a “puzzler.” (The other option to the pantser vs plotter discussion.) I’ve heard compelling reasons for making an outline, but I have so far resisted. Possibly because NaNoWriMo is for my own pleasure, and the pleasure is in sitting down and seeing what I get.

  3. I tried this i got confused as each scene for me relies on what happened before, if i havent written whats happened before im stuck. I work in a very step by step approach, one after the other

    yet I do take the above approach when outlining scenes with one sentence per scene., get them into order then write the scenes

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