Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
An excerpt from The Magic of Fiction
from Chapter 3, “The First Draft”
Whatever your approach to getting the first draft done, recognize that others may follow a different path to the completion of their first drafts and that it’s okay to have different paths to the same outcome—a finished first draft. Recognize also that the first draft isn’t the end. The first draft is simply the bare bones of the story.
Some first drafts are more complete than others, this is true. Some are closer to outlines while others are closer to books. Many more fall between the extremes.
Most are missing scenes. Most have too many words and too many inexact words.
Some are missing character motivation or character goals while others are missing necessary characters.
Some are light on dialogue, heavy on description. Some have the opposite problem.
Many feature dialogue that’s too exact or direct.
Many first drafts have little conflict and few emotionally charged scenes. Many are too cool or distant.
Many first drafts have way too much back story doled out with a generous hand.
Some first drafts inadvertently feature ghost towns—locales populated by only major characters and no background characters—or story worlds that are as clear as fog, with no discernible characteristics or details peculiar to that world.
Many have the same steady pace throughout, no speeding up and no slowing down. No sense of events approaching a high or low point. No sense of rising excitement or easing back on excitement.
Many have an unintentional mix of points of view, the wrong viewpoint character performing narrator duties, and uneven narrative distance from scene to scene.
Many are missing the buildup to the climax. Some are missing the climax itself.
Most have characters who hedge or who don’t follow through. Many have no memorable characters who stand out.
Some have way too much explanation. Some feature summary and a whole bunch of telling with only a few scenes depicted in real time.
Some first drafts lack setting details and references to sounds, textures, or scents. Some have few visuals. Many lack color.
Still others have no subtext, no depth of any kind, only surface actions and the most superficial insight into the characters.
Many first drafts suffer from all of these shortcomings.
For all first drafts, many words are simply wrong. They’re the wrong words for meaning or they’re used in the wrong way. They’re wrong for the sound of the sentence. They’re repetitious. They don’t fit the character. Don’t fit a scene’s mood. Don’t fit the genre or era. Don’t fit the words around them.
First drafts have all sorts of problems, and yet weaknesses in a first draft are okay. Okay for that first draft.
Writing a first draft is all about getting the events on the page, putting the characters into place, and establishing some sense of genre, mood, and setting. It’s not about perfection, although you may discover the perfect event or character motivation as you write. You may even discover a perfect section of dialogue that lasts intact throughout the revision process. Still, writing the first draft isn’t about composing perfect sentences, devising lyrical metaphors, or creating fiction gold although you might do any of these things to some degree in a first draft.
The first draft is allowed to be messy and bloated and full of holes. It’s allowed to be a little of this and a lot of that. It’s allowed to be too much and too little at the same time.
The first draft is allowed to be the first draft. Which means there will be more drafts. Which means that you get to take that first draft and change it, mangle it, rip it apart, and reform it.
The first draft is only the beginning. You don’t ever need to be ashamed of a first draft. At the same time, you don’t need to show it to others either.
It’s not ready for an audience.
Except for the truly beautiful streaks that run through it here and there, the first draft is ugly and raw, and it doesn’t need critics poking at it. You don’t need critics poking at it. It does, however, need your diligent care and all your varied skills to help it grow into a story of beauty and strength.
The first draft is allowed to be lacking. It’s just not allowed to remain that way.
Read more about the first draft in The Magic of Fiction.
Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for more excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate The Magic of Fiction.
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