Hello again--is everyone about exhausted from a week of workshops here at SavvyAuthors? Brain overflowing? We’ve pretty much turned on the firehose and said “drink.”
We have covered a lot of ground in this workshop, and based your responses and comments both aspiring and multi-published authors are all finding something of value here. I’m glad.
Several of you posted your lists--thank you. The more you practice one or more of these plot organizing techniques (aka plotting), the more you’ll grow comfortable with a particular mix that works for you.
Before we review and then get into our lesson, I want to remind everyone of one of the most powerful tools in your author’s toolbox--revision.
Revision--the process where we make a draft, let it cool, then assess, evaluate, and modify that draft to make it better--works with every thing we write.
In other words, your first draft of a list of plot or turning points or your first draft of a scene list or your first draft of a comprehensive concept is just a first draft. If you’re not evaluating and making that draft better, you’re shortchanging yourself.
In hard-hearted language, “Nice first try, bub. Now get off your rump and revise this and make it what it should be.”
And now, to review:
We’ve found that in terms of dreaming of writing, the hard hearted truth is that inspiration follows actions, so quit waiting on the muse and get to work!
We’ve come to understand that without a solid concept that is more comprehensive than just a marketing hook, we’re without a solid foundation and focus for our work
We’ve discussed what characters are essential and why, and how to develop those characters so that they contribute the most to your novel with the least amount of work on your part.
We’ve briefly looked at the writing process with the idea of consciously understanding what you do unconsciously and so improving that process--something critical for success whether you’re working on your first book for fiftieth.
We’ve looked at plotting and figured out that once you know your genre and once you have strong characters with clear goals that are in conflict, plotting isn’t rocket surgery. There are a variety of ways to organize your plotting, all of which are designed to help you generate good ideas about “what happens next” in your novel.
And we now have a battle map and character matrix to help us!
Not bad for a few days’ work!
Now on to your draft--why is your draft lame?
Why is your draft lame? That depends on the draft.
It’s important to distinguish between two kinds of drafts--your first draft and your final draft. One or both could be lame. In other words, the draft could have serious problems that you need to address before you’re ready to share it and certainly before you’re ready to take that draft to market.
The causes of a weak first draft and a weak final draft are different and require different techniques to address. Then it’s a matter of learning those techniques and applying them.
In this lesson we’re going to focus on techniques to make that first draft stronger, recognizing that all first drafts are no more than foundations on which we’ll build a revised, re-written, edited and proofread novel.
What troubles your first draft?
After weeks, months, and sometimes years of dreaming and researching and pre-writing work and then squeezing in writing whenever and however we can, finally we reach those two wonderful words--”the end.”
It’s very tempting to read through our manuscript, fix anything that jumps out as not quite right, add things that reading our own work made us dream up, runs spell check, and send it out. Doing so does pretty well ensure a known result--a “no thank you” rejection letter.
So we know a course of action such as the above isn’t the wisest. At the same time, we’d like to have the strongest first draft possible so that our revision process (we’ll talk about that next lesson) makes a good product even better, as opposed to making a weak product good.
So how can we have a stronger first draft? Two ways--before and while you're writing that first draft
Before you start writing
Know your genre/genres
Do your character biographies (in some form)
Have a clear concept
Have a scene list
I hate outlines, so use your 3.5 cards with your scenes on theme, a list on paper, a map of locations, a timeline, but have something to structure your story and your writing. The more specific you are about who does what in what scene in order to get what, the easier the scenes are to write.
Practice some new techniques
. My favorite green-covered writing book is full of techniques on dialog, action, description etc. If you don’t use mine, find one and use the techniques in that book, but get some.
Give your self daily goals
. Not tough, challenging goals but goals you’ll blow through. Plan to write daily, but so small you’ll readily knock out the requirement.
While you’re writing your first draft
Write the whole backstory in the first chapter if you must
. Every bit of it. All the character biography and history. All the flashbacks, everything. Get it all out. Label this as the “backstory chapter” and set it aside. Give yourself not more than one or two writing sessions to do this.
Then start chapter 1
Write to be creative
Forget waiting on the muse. Give yourself writing assignments and knock ‘em out. Creativity follows composition.
Forget looking back.
Warm up by cranking out half a scene, rather than looking backwards and “editing” what you wrote yesterday. You’re not “editing” anything, you’re futzing with it to avoid the creating, because creating is hard, editing is easy. Break the “warm up editing” habit early and you will lead a happier life later.
Write a “C” grade opening scene.
You’re going to re-write your opening scene several times and then several times more than that. Just get something on paper and move along.
Stuck? Force it.
The writing may be wooden, the scene unnecessary, the characters uncooperative, the muse not letting anything “flow” at all. Finish the scene anyway and quit whining. Write a sentence at a time if you have to, but get the scene done.
Before you start a new scene
, ask yourself who wants what in the scene and what are they going to do to get it? Say the answer out loud in a complete sentence. Don’t start writing the scene until you can.
Don’t be surprised
if you the characters demand to do something different or if you need to add (write) an unplanned scene or scenes. The act of being creative will make you more creative. Go with it.
Get some direction
. Write your scenes in the Action (Does something to make progress toward a goal) Emotion (about the action) Thought (discovery/decision/plan) Action sequence with cause and effect in mind. Whether it’s a first kiss, hatchet murder, assault on a fortress, or kinky sex act, spend more time on the action and less time (fewer words) on the feeling and thinking about it.
Think cause and effect/action-reaction
. Every scene is about a characters with goals in conflict with each other taking action to achieve those goals. Every sequel to a scene is because of the previous scene.
Need to take a break?
Fine, rewrite your opening scene--that’s your break. Bring it up to a “B.”
Keep writing--finish the draft
Forget chapter breaks--they come later
Write out of order-
you can write “scene 23” before you get to “scene 16” if you want. Just keep track.
And finish the draft.
Make it longer than it needs to be.
You’ll be doing some cutting, trust me.
Finish the draft.
Above all else, finish the draft. caffeinate, eat choclate, wear your fingers out, stay up late, whatever it takes, but finish the draft.
Write “the end.” Have a cookie. Take a nap.
Rewrite your opening scene. Bring it up to what you think is an “A.”
With all this effort, your first draft should be a competent first draft, and that’s really all you can hope for. The real work is not in drafting. Lots of folks can knock out 50 or 100- thousand words of gibberish. The real work is in the revision and rewriting, but you want to revise and rewrite a competent work, not gibberish.
The hard hearted truth is that your first draft is not crap or gibberish, but neither is it ready to run through spell check and send off for easy rejection.
It’s a first draft, the stronger the better, but still a first draft.
Now take a break and get ready to revise so that your final draft isn’t lame.
Here’s an easy one: Drafting can be hard work and often we distract ourselves with time wasters. Besides email, web-browsing-pretending-to-research, and facebooking, what are your distractors?
Here’s one that is tougher, but more informative:
Keep a pad open while you’re drafting and note what you do and, if you can, how long you do it for. Do this a few times, both in good writing sessions and less productive ones, in sessions where you get the words to “flow” easily and those where you don’t. Yes, you can have multiple writing sessions in a day.
Analyse these. You’re looking for behaviors did in a session that was productive and rewarding. Capture these so you can repeated them, especially on a day when “you’re just not feeling it.” Remember, inspiration follows action.
If those behaviors are unhealthy (like a couple of martinis and a steak hoagie), find some new ones ASAP. Otherwise, you now know how to get yourself in the groove faster.
Share if you’d like--I’m sure it will help others.
See you next time, when we’ll talk about how to buck up your editing!
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