Chapter Seventeen: First Drafts and Beyond

First Drafts

“You can write any scene ten thousand ways — a thousand of them will be fine, and a hundred will be brilliant. Of course, nine thousand won’t be fine, and of those, about five thousand will truly suck.” Orson Scott Card

So we’re ready to put the pen to paper (or much more likely, the fingers to the keyboard). We’ve plotted and planned, know the tension and conflict of every scene, and created characters that sizzle with life and color. We begin our writing in earnest, the words may flow onto the screen like the River Jordan or trickle out like a leaky faucet, but eventually a scene or a chapter emerges. We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves, stand up to enjoy a mid-day snack, and come back to it an hour or a day later. We reread what we wrote and our eyes get large. What happened? Did evil monkeys come in while we were away and butcher our masterpiece? Did our computer catch a weird malware virus, one that specializes in taking an artist’s work and turning it into the comment section of The Huffington Post? We then enter a very sacred and time honored tradition of the writing craft (expletive warning)… sh!$ty first drafts.

It’s a near universal condition that besets writers. No matter how hard we may try to prep our work, our first go around with a story, a chapter, or a scene will almost certainly need substantial reworking, if not outright deletion. (There is a small minority of writer’s, let’s say .001%, that don’t require rewrites, but as Anne Lamott astutely said about them, “We don’t expect that they have a rich inner life, or that God likes them or can even stand them.”) This is okay though, and is in fact a healthy first step that accomplishes two needed goals. First, we’ve actually written something, which puts us ahead of roughly 80% of all other ‘aspiring’ writers out there. Second, and even more directly applicable, we now have something to work with, to shape and to mold into something salvageable.

Since we know how beats of a story (scenes and sequels) flow, we can identity the quality of the conflict and the pace of our story. When we look back, we can find holes or rabbit trails that drain some of the tension from the plot. We know our characters have to be vibrant and active, hence we search for ways to add more decisions that showcase their personality and item descriptions to help us remember them. We can also track the flow of sequels, analyzing the sequence of their reactions, thoughts, anticipation, and choice. 

And more than anything else, we use our inner editor to signal which parts of the story are boring or dull. I used to think when I reread my work, if I found myself skimming over a section, the culprit was simply a result of spending too much time looking at the draft. However, far more often, the truth was I didn’t find the scene particularly engaging, and if the author isn’t full engaged, you can bet the audience won’t be either. When you catch ourselves spacing out, mark that scene, and then go back to it. Identify where you started to drift, and then determine if you really need it in the story to begin with, or if the scene needs to be rewritten. Whatever the case, until you stop skimming a section, you know you still have work to do. But that’s okay, because so does every other writer. The victor is crowned because he refused to stop writing.


p.s Want to see a sneak peek at the first chapter of Tyrants and Traitors? Check it out here :) 

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