Friday, November 18, 2011

On Drafting

The first draft is a story that you tell yourself - a raw expression of the thoughts that race through your head as hands translate imagination to scenes, characters, settings, drama, and plot.  You race to get them all down as they come; constantly worrying that the magic will fade before you are done. You race through, throwing thoughts at the text without ordering or forcing them into any semblance of order.  Get the draft DONE is the imperative.

But soon the magic does dissipate, only to haunt your dreams, letting you wake with a flood of new ideas, new departures, new concepts.  You burn to get these down before they vanish from memory, before the day's reality captures your mind with prosaic concerns.  Did you have time to dash off a quick note, a sketch, or  a few reminder words to help you when you have an opportunity to return to the draft?     How do you keep this going? Do you have the energy to do this time and again?  The pressure of the idea become intense, forcing you to return to the draft until, in a final burst of energy, your draft is done. All of your ideas have bled into the draft.

Then you read it and discover that it is a mess:  The character definitions are a muddle and their motivations unknown, suspect, or nonexistent.  Viewpoints shift from one character to another.  Scene description range from excessive to spare, inappropriate in some places and oddly misplaced in others, lending nothing to the dramatic point.  You belatedly discover that the blue vase on the first page becomes red on the third, a box on the seventh, and disappears entirely for the next twenty, only to reappear as a cat. Madness!

And it is at this point that the work of writing really begins. If  you ever hope to sell it, you'll have to tame this unwieldy mess. First you have to tighten the characters and give them a consistent world view. Then you have to decide how to handle the scenery, keying it to the plot's needs instead of simply supplying descriptive narrative.  You have to find the place where the story really starts and shift whatever scenes came earlier in your time line into flashbacks or reverie. Is there a place where you could put some foreboding - something  you hadn't consciously thought of while scribbling those first approximations of a story?  Did I mention assembling the various ideas into cogent scenes, or placing them into an order that would make sense to a reader who is absent of your creative insight?  In other words; crafting your rough draft into readable form.

This reworking of the draft isn't a quick and dirty pass-through.  No, you have to work the draft again and again until all the questions above have been addressed.  You have to make the plot appealing to both the sophisticate and the novice.  Then, only then, can you start worrying about grammar and spelling before casting it out into the cold, cruel world.

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