Showing posts with label first draft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label first draft. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 7

Editing Your Zero Draft

Editing Your Zero Draft

NanoWriMo is over! If you participated and wrote more than you would have otherwise, you’re a winner. If you ended up writing 50,000+ words, that’s awesome!

It’s been a week since NaNoWriMo ended so you’ve had a chance to distance yourself a little bit from the story. If you don’t have sufficient distance from your writing the danger is that when you read your Zero Draft you won’t be able to be objective. What I try to do is put my manuscript away for a week or two so I can come back to it with new eyes.

In any case, after enough time has passed rescue your manuscript from the drawer and read it from start to finish. There’s only one rule: don’t edit until you’ve read the whole thing. This is torture for me, but it’s important to re-load the whole story into your mind without changing anything.

When I read something that’s not right, a misspelling, etc., I want to go into the file and fix it but if I were to do that then I’d start adding sections that didn’t need to be added and deleting material that was necessary for the development of a future event.

I find one way to lessen the temptation to edit is to print a hardcopy of the manuscript and, if I must make notes, then at least I can’t change the electronic file. By the way if you want to save paper and load your manuscript into an app that allows you to mark up a file I recommend GoodNotes, it’s the app I use.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you read:

- Does a character’s name change halfway through the story? Is the name spelled the same way throughout the manuscript? Do all the names you use begin with a different letter? Are all the names sufficiently distinct from each other?

- Is each character absolutely necessary to advance the plot? Can two (or more) characters be merged into one? Or are there too few characters?

- Do NOT worry about grammar or spelling (other than for names) at this stage. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to end up not using a lot of the text in your Zero Draft. Fiddling with grammar and spelling would just waste your time.

->After your first read through.

After you’ve read your story through try to answer these two questions:

(a) What state of affairs represents happiness to your protagonist? Being together with friends and family? Winning the lottery? Retiring from their job? Going into business for themselves? Traveling the world?

(b) What danger threatens to keep the protagonist’s dream from becoming reality?

Now try and answer these questions:

What is the protagonists external goal? That is, what concrete thing or state of affairs does the protagonist desire to bring about? For example, in Die Hard John McClane wants to protect his wife and the other hostages and defeat the terrorists.

Is there a physical object that represents this goal? For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones wanted to bring the Ark back to the United States.

In the recent movie “Arrival” the protagonist’s external goal is to understand why the aliens arrived on earth, to understand the alien language.

Make sure you know what the protagonist’s goal is—it will form the spine of your story.

Story Structure

I’ve written quite a few posts about story structure (link and link) so I won’t go into that here. But be sure that your protagonist’s external and internal goals are what drives the key scenes of the story.


Another thing to focus on at this stage is that the protagonist has a suitably strong antagonist. You want the antagonist and protagonist to have the same goal and for it to be impossible for them both to achieve the goal. Also, it tends to work well if the protagonist and antagonist are alike in many ways.

If the antagonist is the protagonist's nemesis then he/she will be quite a bit like the protagonist but differ in at least one important respect.

In Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beloq is Indy’s nemesis. Both men are archaeologists and are driven to procure relics. But they operate by very different moral codes and view the relics they hunt for very differently. Indy appreciates the relics for themselves while Beloq is primarily interested in what the relic can do for him in terms of wealth or power.

The number one thing that you need to keep in mind as you re-read your Zero Draft is to be kind to yourself. There are going to be awful bits and there are going to be glorious bits. Don’t stress about the disastrous passages, focus on the good, focus on what works. Stay positive.

If you’re anything like me there are going to be a LOT of drafts between now and your final one. It’s a process of weeding out what doesn’t belong and gradually shaping the story. It’s early days still. If you keep at it you’ll end up with a story you love.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I am feeling whimsical so what better book to recommend than Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling. From the blurb: "When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt's fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…"

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing. :-)

Wednesday, July 18

Writers: In Order To Win We Must Embrace Failure

Writers: in order to win we must embrace failure
Writers create

I was tempted to title this article, "Writers: Masters of the Universe," but that wouldn't have been very descriptive. Much cooler though.

I was chatting with a friend this morning over email and she mentioned the necessity of embracing failure, the need to allow oneself to fail in order to have the freedom to create that magical first draft.

I'm not saying the first draft is magical because it's so good (although my friend's probably will be, she's an awesome writer) but because it contains in some form--even if it's a twisted, mangled promissory form--the seeds of a story.

It's the morning and I've only had one cup of coffee which means I need at least two more before I become remotely lucid, but it seems to me that the first draft is an act of creation. A writer starts with nothing, not even an idea. Then the idea appears and grows and transforms and becomes a story, something with a theme and a plot and characters and perhaps narrative drive.

To me, all such acts of creation are magical. Something is being created from nothing, ex nihilo.

Years ago another friend of mine introduced me to the term, "dark art". For instance, wine tasting is a dark art, so is picking a stock that performs well.

A successful day trader is a past master of the dark arts.

The idea behind the term is that sometimes there's no straightforwardly algorithmic way to achieve success in a certain field, or at a certain venture. And yet, somehow, people do and they do it on a regular basis. I think calling such people past masters of a dark art sounds cooler than remarking, "They have what it takes," or "They have je ne sais quoi, but it comes to the same thing.

Although there's no way someone can tell another person how to accomplish something for which there is no algorithmic path to success--that's the whole point after all--there are preconditions; requirements that must be met for success to be possible. In the case of a writer one of these requirements seems to be giving oneself the permission to fail.

I came across this quotation yesterday:
'It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly,' C . J. Cherryh
I needed to look that quote up to make sure I remembered it correctly (thanks Ali Hale) and came across this one:
'God sells us all things at the price of the labor,' Leonardo da Vinci
It might seem as though I'm contradicting myself. On the one hand, I'm saying writing a first draft is a dark art and, on the other, that going on a Dadaistic writing frenzy is the path to success.

Both are true.

As long as the idea--even the minutest, sickliest, germ of an idea--comes out in your first draft, even if it only tangentially gestures at the potential possibility of an idea, that's your lightning in a bottle.

On successive drafts you can hone the idea, get to know it, craft it, explore it, develop it. Perhaps, ultimately, the idea that eventually becomes the soul of your story will be another one altogether and your first idea will have served to merely show you the way.

I think that's part of the mystery of writing, why we fall in love with it. At heart, writers are drunk with the power of creation.

Or something like that.

Before I have my second cup of coffee I have two operating brain cells and they're locked in a death match, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Thanks for reading and remember Heinlein's first rule: Writers write.

(See what I mean? The title, "Writers: Masters of the Universe," would have been much cooler.)

Related reading:
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher
- Jody Hedlund: Talent Is Overrated
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

"Writers: In Order To Win We Must Embrace Failure," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Wednesday, September 7

Elizabeth S. Craig: The First Draft Is Supposed To Be A Disaster

Elizabeth S. Craig, author of Progressive Dinner Deadly, Pretty is as Pretty Dies, among others, has written a wonderful blog post on how to be productive entitled, appropriately, Perfectionism and Productivity.

Elizabeth writes:
I’ve always been pretty good about resisting perfectionism during first drafts. That’s because I’d never get anywhere with a book if I tried to make it perfect as I went. The first draft is supposed to be a disaster. I don’t look at what I wrote the day before, just end my writing time with a quick cheat sheet to tell me where I left off and where I need to pick up.
Read the rest of her article here: Perfectionism and Productivity.