Last week I said I would talk about how I select my draft from my mental idea quarry and how I keep it from fracturing during the revision process.
The selection process is fun, if one of the longer parts for me. It can take me a few months sometimes to figure out which story path is the right one. A lot of that has to do with each character having many possible outcomes and me being indecisive about which outcome is the one I want to give them.
I look for these elements as I write my first draft.
1) Compelling to me
2) Fulfills my promise to my readers
3) Contains at least one buried philosophical premise/subtle meaning
4) Has a strong romantic sub-plot
5) Has a solid main plot that supports the promise I made to my readers
6) Has dynamic, fully formed characters with diverse motives, world-views and agendas.
These elements are compelling to me and are present in all of my favorite works of fiction. I write what I love to read and so if these key points aren’t present I know the manuscript will never function. The glue that holds all those points together is making it matter to my readers, which means making it matter to the characters. If the goal of my plot doesn’t matter to the character it absolutely won’t matter to my reader.
As I work on my current draft I am always asking myself: Does it matter to Aislin? Why? What does she do to show how important X is to her? By constantly reminding myself of the goal, and of the character’s motivation to reach it, I can maintain, not only character focus, but also reader focus on the thing that matters most.
If I manage to keep all of that in mind to the end I usually have a pretty solid draft. If I haven’t I go back to the beginning and re-write substantial chunks of the draft, even to the point of writing an entirely new draft, something I did with the novel pictured in Scrivener above.
Once the draft is solid, meaning, the character goals and plot goals align and are properly motivated, the writing usually goes quite fast. The sticking point is when I take a detour and realize that what I’ve written is out of character or is a digression from the real story. Those moments happen often in the drafting process but I’ve learned to just copy and paste them into an other ideas document and move on. It took a while. I used to resist cutting out 5,000 sometimes 7,000 words of freshly drafted material, but after having to re-write the 60,000 words I mentioned in the last post I realized cutting five or seven thousand words immediately will save me a lot of time and headaches in the future.
This process of critically thinking while writing my first draft is what keeps most of my books from fracturing into pieces during revision. Now that doesn’t always work and some of them end up in a drawer or a desktop folder for eternity, but usually the process of refining that I do during my draft keeps everything in order and allows for a smooth revision to take place.
The next step after drafting, is to revise, ie carve the block into a masterpiece. I’ll talk about how I do that next week.
Until then, I hope you are enjoying this series.