Some Write It Hot

October 15, 2010

First Drafts By Ellie Heller

Filed under: Writing life — dangerouslysexy @ 04:00
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First drafts suck.

Even though I spend a fair amount of time day dreaming – I mean thinking through my characters and plots – it’s not until I start writing that I can begin to get a handle on who is on the page, why they are there and where they are going.

No matter how much I’ve thought about it, first drafts are never, ever quite right. When editing time comes I very often end up pitching huge chunks of what I wrote in my initial draft.

With any new story a lot of what I pitch is character background which comes to me as I write (and I do tend to write character driven stories so this makes sense). Yeah, I need to know the ex-boyfriend was a troll (literally) but I don’t need to share with the reader the paragraph I wrote on her relationship with him and his perfidy.

Or the following one on how and why this screwed up her life. I’ll keep them, cut and paste them into my ‘cut from current story’ document in case I do decide to use bits later, but info-dumps like this plague my first drafts.

I think this was one of the hardest things to hear as a new writer, i.e. that I simply could not keep everything I wrote down about the characters. So much time and effort wiped off the page, particularly since, for me, learning about my characters is part of the process of writing. Discovering what I, as the author and holder of all the information, need to know as well as what (and when!) to share tantalizing tidbits with the reader is a skill I had to acquire.

So I’ve learned to go ahead and write it down, I do need to know it, but I also understand that I will be cutting and my 500 word progress tonight will be mostly gone by the end of the week.

On the other hand, lack of depth of characters also plagues my initial pass on telling the story. I don’t really know my characters yet, how they think, how they will react. It’s usually not until the second or third chapter, sometimes even later that I know them well enough to go back and add in their internal (and sometimes physical) reactions. Adding words, instead of cutting them, always a pleasure!

All of this means that I can spend a lot of time on the first two to three chapters, revising, editing, getting to know my characters and the world around them. And it’s only after they are truly set on the page and in my mind I can see if the story will gel and hold together. The more I write, the more often the story line resolves into something useful. However I still have starts which I discard as the characters and/or plot and/or world do not morph into the needed whole.

When they do morph, though, and the seed of an idea has bloomed into a story, the characters known and the plot clear ahead of me, writing becomes much easier. The info dumps become less frequent (although there’s always some when I have an alternate reality I’m developing the structure for). The need to go back in and add depth/reaction lessens. I am now in a beautiful time when the characters are clear and there and charging forth through the story.

Okay, it’s not quite that copacetic, but things do become much easier.

But until then, first drafts suck. They really do.

9 Comments »

  1. Boy, that’s the truth! I ended up cutting 17,000 words off my first draft of Midnight Sun. Oh, the pain! But I ended with the start of my second novel which was a huge plus. Universe building does give us more leeway, but not 17K.
    I still have a problem with info dump. Left to my own devices I would put a prologue at the beginning of each book and catch the reader up all at once, but then I remember “Dune” which I loved after I skipped the first 3 chapters of info dump.

    Comment by Debbie Vaughan — October 15, 2010 @ 06:00 | Reply

  2. The authors here sure know how to hit a nail on the head. I just received a draft back that had “delete this” on every other page. Can you say “infodumpitis”?

    To make matters worse, I don’t have the world building bed to fall back on.

    Very informative post. Thanks.

    Cornelle

    Comment by Cornelle Keveen — October 15, 2010 @ 07:00 | Reply

    • Glad you liked it! Yeah, ‘infodumpitis’ is definitely a disease I fight every day. 🙂

      Comment by Ellie Writes Too — October 15, 2010 @ 12:51 | Reply

  3. Hey Hey, Ellie! Oh, I completely hear you. I can’t tell you how many drafts I have of all the books/stories/chapters over the years. Of course it’s all worth it if the story turns out the way it needs to be!

    Comment by Judith Leger — October 15, 2010 @ 07:08 | Reply

    • So funny you should mention this, my twin sister JUST sent me a retrieved file from…wait for it… an Atari 64 (I think!) of a story we wrote ~25 years ago. Crazy!

      Comment by Ellie Writes Too — October 15, 2010 @ 12:53 | Reply

  4. […] First drafts suck. Even though I spend a fair amount of time day dreaming – I mean thinking through my characters and plots – it's not until I start writing that I can begin to get a handle on who is on the page, why they are there and where they are going. No matter how much I've thought about it, first drafts are never, ever quite right. When editing time comes I very often end up pitching huge chunks of what I wrote in my initial draft. With a … Read More […]

    Pingback by First Drafts By Ellie Heller (via Some Write It Hot) « EllieWrites2- The Blog — October 15, 2010 @ 12:52 | Reply

  5. I spent about three months writing a play which I was POSITIVE was SOLID GOLD!
    and then another 2 months rewriting pretty much every last word.
    even after the rewrite it still sucked.

    the end.

    Comment by lars — October 17, 2010 @ 09:41 | Reply

    • What lars? No third, forth, umpteenth revision? 🙂

      Actually I would think a play would be incredibly difficult to write, so huge kudos to you for trying to!

      Comment by Ellie Writes Too — October 18, 2010 @ 15:51 | Reply


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