Monday, July 25, 2011

How I write

The first draft

An idea stirs then turns into a more linear image in my mind with somewhat defined characters and conflicts and then a story is born. I write the bare bones of the story: main plot and characters. Once I have those things down, I go back and make sure I have enough meat, or vegetables, to entice the reader.

I go back to the beginning and begin the real work.

First, I begin to structure my chapters by asking:

Is there a clear purpose for the chapter? Is it being met?
In the scene I’m writing we meet the antagonist. There are certain elements that I need the reader to get from this chapter. I don’t want the reader to know who he is, so I use no names. I need to show the elements of the antagonist’s character traits through setting, his perceptions/thoughts, and actions.

Did I reach my word count goal for the chapter?
I usually fall short in this regard during the first round and build up as I go. Having a goal for the chapter helps me make sure I’m meeting all the other requirements to engage the reader. It’s easier for me to delete later, than to regain that mindset I needed to create the chapter.

Is there movement towards something in the scene (internal/external conflict)?
My antagonist is reflecting just before he does something horrific in this chapter. I need to make sure all this is real-time and not backstory. I also need to make sure the reader feels something by using concrete images and active writing.

Am I in the right place (setting)?
Setting creates mood. Have I put my character in the best place to highlight the attributes I need to show? Try taking him out of his comfort zone. Or put him somewhere comfortable and pull the rug out from under him. Either way works.

Am I in the right character’s head to meet the purpose of the chapter/scene?
Different POV’s give the reader a totally different perspective on the events around them. Make sure you are choosing the one that best fits the chapter/scene’s purpose.

Have I developed a sense of the character which meets the chapter objective?
Through everything mentioned above, have I led the reader where I want them to be at this moment?

Anything else you’d like to add?


  1. This is really quite similar to how I write. I tend to do a rough plot outline then get bashing away. I craft out the skeleton and then when teh book has finished, go back and add in all the flesh. Beefing it up so to speak.

  2. Ditto - my first drafts are rough, malnouished, homely things. Only when I go back in for the second drafts do they start to take on the real makings of a story.

    The difference between my first and seconds drafts? Often 20 to 3k words. Yeah, it's that serious.

  3. Good questions to ask! The difference between my first draft and second is that the second is smaller. I tend to go overboard when I first plot. *grins sheepishly* It's a compulsion I have yet to conquer.

  4. That's good that you write fat and slim down. I usually write skinny and have to plump it up.

  5. I write similarly, with a first draft then edits, but let me ask you: when do you write? I always have a hard time trying to balance my time, and I just wonder what other people do. Thanks for the post!

  6. You have quite an organized approach to writing.

    I get the character, then the biggest part of their story. Then I'll decide what to write in the first chapter, write that and repeat the process. And yes, I'm a believer in outlining and that's my method.

  7. My first drafts are very free-form, and sometimes my characters take me in unexpected directions. I have tried outlining -- but my characters often sneer at the outline and insist on exploring different avenues.

    I do ask many of the questions you ask -- but usually in the second draft. My characters may have creative control over the first draft, but I do expect them to toe the line in subsequent evolutions.

  8. I think shitty first drafts are a good sign. LOL. My current Ms is at 40K and I have to beef it up to 60K, so yeah, I know about beefing it up. I outline too but I do it as I write. So it's more looking ahead a few chapters at a time.

    Hanny, time is hard to find. It helps to think of it as a part-time job and I write whenever I get the chance. I use up a lot of notebooks too. I'll probably write a post on finding time.

    Thanks for all your comments.

  9. I loved reading about how you write your first draft. Thanks for telling us about it. You mentioned such interesting things like how you put your character in the best place to highlight the attributes you need to show. Great job! And thanks for commenting on my blog!

  10. Wow, that's amazing. For me, the story comes like a movie. I see the movie and then write the scenes like a book. But, I'm a planner and I usually plan a lot before writing each chapter.


Thanks for stopping by! I had to turn on the word verification due to spammers. Sorry for the inconvenience.