FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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SarcasticHawke489
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FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby SarcasticHawke489 » Thu Apr 20, 2017 1:17 am

So I just want to know, is it okay when your first draft looks really, really just... weird? I mean, yes, I know that first drafts are meant to be just a skeleton, but does your 'draft skeletons' seem just as empty as mine?
I write and the story flows where it needs to go, but all the actions and dialogues are so empty, emotionless and so quick that I almost hate them and I want to throw it away.

Almost all the scenes consist of the simple verbs and paragraphs and I don't bother to enrich them. Is this the way how first drafts are made, or does every writer use their own preference technique? Should I be more attentive to my first drafts or should I just follow the flow? It kind of makes me really worried how simple it seems. For example, when I make characters talk to each other, I don't add strong verbs yet; it might mostly consist of 'he said/she said'. Or I rather 'Tell' things first before I craft them into 'Show'.

Could you share your experiences, and could you advice me how should I start next drafts once I'm finished with the first one?
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Brien Sz
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Re: FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby Brien Sz » Thu Apr 20, 2017 4:33 am

Without reading it, it's hard to know if it really is as you say or you are just being overly critical of yourself. My method is to put the draft away for about 6 weeks. Don't look at it or think about it. Then, take it out and begin to read and edit. You nay be surprised. When I look at the first draft again, I tend to find things I thought were good, were maybe not so good and vice versa. For me, I tend to have to trim more fat than add it. On a third draft, that's when the piece really shapes up - there's generally some more trimming but often there is more filling out a few areas than are thin - when I say filling out, I am not talking paragraphs of information - maybe a sentence or two or three, here and there. After the third draft, I give it to some beta readers and then make adjustments as I see fit. Generally, I go through 4-5 edits before I feel the piece is done.

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Re: FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby robjvargas » Thu Apr 20, 2017 6:47 am

SarcasticHawke489 wrote:So I just want to know, is it okay when your first draft looks really, really just... weird? I mean, yes, I know that first drafts are meant to be just a skeleton, but does your 'draft skeletons' seem just as empty as mine?
I write and the story flows where it needs to go, but all the actions and dialogues are so empty, emotionless and so quick that I almost hate them and I want to throw it away.

Deep breath. Relax. Get the story out.

Growth is sometimes a painful process. If you see more than what's already there, then there's more to write. The quicksand, at this point, is letting it stop you. So don't stop. Let the story come out. I'm not always successful, but I try to keep going through that growth phase. I see this pain as the story, the world itself, coming alive for me. When that first draft comes out of my fingers (so to speak) it's *just* a story. At some point, though, the characters start talking to me. That sounds schizophrenic, but it means that I'm starting to see whole people. Same with the "world" itself. Until it, too, comes alive, I don't see those details that my characters should see: the "comma" shape of the leaves of the teko tree. The orange shading that makes nazek grass look dead. So the world, and the people,aren't real yet. I go with that. It results in something that's awful at the beginning, not so much at the end.

SarcasticHawke489 wrote:Almost all the scenes consist of the simple verbs and paragraphs and I don't bother to enrich them. Is this the way how first drafts are made, or does every writer use their own preference technique? Should I be more attentive to my first drafts or should I just follow the flow? It kind of makes me really worried how simple it seems. For example, when I make characters talk to each other, I don't add strong verbs yet; it might mostly consist of 'he said/she said'. Or I rather 'Tell' things first before I craft them into 'Show'.

Sounds pretty normal to me. Michelangelo was quoted as saying that he didn't create his sculptures. They were always there, in that block of marble. He just brought the sculpture out.

It's kind of like that. In the first draft, you're cutting away the generic shape of your work, establishing the shape yet to reveal itself. A statue in the early stage of work looks mighty rough. THEN the artist starts to work on the details. David wasn't sculpted as is in one sitting. Neither will your work.

I don't like the word "skeleton" for a first draft. I say it's a whole thing. Not sure what I'd call that, but skeleton sounds incomplete to me.

SarcasticHawke489 wrote:Could you share your experiences, and could you advice me how should I start next drafts once I'm finished with the first one?

Get that first draft complete. DON'T READ IT. Not until it's done. Myself, I walk away from the complete first draft for one week. Then I read it, start to finish. Warts and all, no editing.

My second draft is a complete rewrite. I don't edit the first draft. I keep it for reference, but the first draft basically never again sees the light of day. For me, the second draft is where the characters and the world come alive.
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Re: FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby ostarella » Thu Apr 20, 2017 8:45 am

SarcasticHawke489 wrote:So I just want to know, is it okay when your first draft looks really, really just... weird? I mean, yes, I know that first drafts are meant to be just a skeleton, but does your 'draft skeletons' seem just as empty as mine?

...

Is this the way how first drafts are made, or does every writer use their own preference technique? Should I be more attentive to my first drafts or should I just follow the flow?

...

Could you share your experiences, and could you advice me how should I start next drafts once I'm finished with the first one?


I'm going to address the above parts of your post, because I think it's very important that new writers understand that there are no "shoulds" in writing methods. None. When you're starting out, you experiment. You try doing it one way - if it doesn't work, you tweak it. If it still doesn't work, you tweak it some more or you try a different method. And you'll end up tweaking that. You keep doing that until you find the method that works for you and that book. You may find that it works for all your writing - you may find you need to work differently for the next book.

My personal method is to write one draft which is the final draft. I edit/revise/rewrite as I go. I don't move to the next paragraph, page or chapter until I'm happy with the current one. I don't want to finish the first draft - or 2nd or 5th or 10th - and then go back and try to fix things yet again. To me, writing more than one draft is akin to "bright shiny object" - I liked what I wrote the first time, I paid attention to what I wrote the first time, so why do I now think I should go back and change things because of some new idea? I'll use that new idea in a new story.

But that's how I work. It doesn't work for everybody. So - don't change how you're doing things unless you don't like it, not because you think you're not doing it the way it should be done. If you can finish the story - completely, not just the drafts - then you're using the right method. If you're not finishing the story, then you need to experiment with other ways of working.

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Re: FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby wdarcy » Fri Apr 21, 2017 11:13 am

My own method is very close to Shadowwalker's. I basically write one draft. I edit and revise as I go. For example, I always review and edit the previous day's work before I write something new. For my novel-in-progress I am doing something a little different: after I finish 10 new chapters, I go back and polish them before proceeding.

When I finish the entire draft, I do go back and edit it, but this does not entail producing a second draft. Again, it's largely polishing. I tighten the language, try to find stronger verbs, make the dialogue more natural, etc. I try to make sure each character's arc is consistent and convincing, and that there are no contradictions or redundancies. I also check to make sure there are no causality errors, that everything on every level always moves from cause to effect. Usually all this results in a lower word count. I don't consider this process revising, because never do I eliminate, add, or significantly change any scenes.

As I mentioned in another thread, I am what Steven James calls an "organic" writer. That is, I never plot or outline. I do research if and when it's needed. I begin with a general idea of what the novel is about, and I start writing. And yes, the process is very much like what Michelangelo described when he sculpted David from a single block of material: he simply removed everything that was not David. The story is already there, complete in every detail. I am simply uncovering it. I discover where it's going as I write. I discover my characters as I meet them. And when I've finished the draft, it's all there. Sure it needs polishing, but there certainly is no need to do a wholesale revision or a second draft.

This is the method that works for me. It won't necessarily work for everyone.

I might also mention that I see no point in putting my draft aside for 6 weeks, as Stephen King recommends, before I begin polishing it. I did that with my first novel manuscript, and I don't see that it helped any. But for some writers it might.

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Re: FIRST Drafts [Is it always such...]

Postby maplington » Sun Apr 23, 2017 5:41 pm

In addition to what others have said, don't worry if your prose isn't too flowery. Many very successful writers have used a simple, straightforward vocabulary (Exhibit A: Ernest Hemingway). I think for many readers, an interesting premise, relatable characters and great plot go much farther than a lot of intricate language.


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