Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's in a First Draft?

posted by Rebecca J. Carlson

It's NaNoWriMo, that festive time of year when folks send the internal editor on a long vacation and try to get as many words on the page as fast as they can. There's something wonderful and free about charging headlong into a writing project. Who cares if its 50,000 words of slush?

Actually, I do care, because I'm going to want to revise that slush.

I know I'm not supposed to think about it too much while I'm drafting, but there's got to be something of merit happening somewhere to make all those words WORTH revising.

What do you focus on when you write a first draft?

For me, the first thing that comes is the dialog. I hear the characters talking to each other. Then I put the scene around them, where they are, how they look, what's happening. My husband says I should be a screenplay writer because my first drafts are all dialog and stage directions.

But this time I'm trying something new. I'm focusing hard on how my pov character feels and what he thinks. So far, I like the results.

I don't draft at 1000 words an hour. More like 600. That's because I like to stop and draw floor plans, scour the internet for the perfect name for a walk-on character, research how my characters might make gunpowder from scratch, stand up and act out a scene so I get the blocking right, meditate on the most apt metaphor, or simply dream myself further into the setting. In other words, I have more fun if my fingers don't have to be flying every second.

So what do you do when you first draft?


  1. I focus on cultivating a love for my story and my characters, because that's the only way I can stick it out from first draft to final. If I find myself up against the wall, I go away to daydream until I come up with ideas that make me laugh or cry or otherwise care, and so I often write scenes well out of order. Once I've got the scenes I love, then figuring out how to set them up frames the rest of the story. This way, if what I've written is 50,000 words of slush, I'm still excited to polish it up because of the emotional investment I have. You'll notice many of the top selling authors are ones who channel raw emotion most effectively, irrespective of their prosecraft and wordsmithing. This is a job where being excited and opening a vein aren't just perks, they're a necessity.

  2. I like that image, Emily. I'm channeling raw emotion.

  3. You know, my first draft styles keep changing as I'm learning. It's been interesting to try new styles and techniques and see whether I like them and how it affects the story. I love hearing how others do their first drafts and revisions and have been very inspired by their insights. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca! I'd really like to read your story.

  4. Usually, when I do a first draft, I really don't think much about the characters or the setting or anything. It's just a mad dash to get to the end of the story. That is changing though, because now that I've given up writing with a pen in a notebook, I can't hide in my closet and write all day.

  5. Hi, Rebecca! Let me see, as I write my first draft, the magic of my letters on screen turn real take over. It's evolutionary for me with every book! The story just tells its own. I really find much joy in writing new stuff! *sigh*

  6. So what's in a first draft? LOTS OF FUN! Whee! And tomorrow I'm going to dive right back in.

  7. For me, it's the bare bones of plot and theme - of course dialogue, but that's usually not my focus.

  8. For me it is emotion, dialog, and way too much setting. I always have to scrub away the setting so the reader doesn't feel like I caked it on like too much makeup.

  9. I love your setting, Leisha! Especially when mountains are exploding.


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