Wednesday, May 30, 2012


This week I am among a group of professional genre writers in Taos NM for a one-week mutual critiquing session.  My intent on attending was to see if I could glean a hint or two about writing as I peruse their drafts and chat endlessly about the craft of writing in general. It is interesting to see other's unfinished drafts, hear the comments and observations and discuss their unique processes in drafting.

When I set out to write I seldom have a sense of length, unless it has been commissioned, and that usually comes with a defined subject.  What I think will be short stories because of the modest concept sometimes turn out to be novelettes or novellas (my natural length.)  The first draft of most are piles of random scenes, snippets of conversations, research notes, and scribbled ideas that pop up at random and usually have nothing to do with the work in progress - AT THAT TIME.  Yeah, the first draft is an exercise in discovery, flipping over the mental rocks to find what lurks beneath.

Second draft is more deliberative as I assemble the mess into a more or less comprehensible form, grouping things into defined scenes, making the characters recognizable and consistent, and figuring out how to dress the stage to give a sense of place. Chronology also needs attention, but not always.  Mostly the second draft tells me the length the story wants to be and informs the shape of the ...

Third draft, which I always hope is the penultimate draft. This is where I get serious about the actual words being used, the parsing of sentences, and the patterns of paragraphs that make for easy reading and more understandable pacing.  This is where the characters achieve nuance, tics, and distinguishing characteristics.  Perhaps I dress them handsomely or not at all. Sometimes they even don alien skins and behaviors. Finishing the third draft always leaves me feeling good and ready to cast it adrift on the tide of editorial whimsy.  But...

After letting the supposedly finished draft sit in a virtual pie cabinet for a week or more, I can read it with fresh eyes and realize all the flaws, the things that remain to be explained, the little ornaments that would improve a character or setting, and where the wording can be sharpened to a fine point. When this is done the work finally goes out, no longer a draft but a finished story, for if I kept it a day longer I would be impelled to fiddle more in an endless quest for impossible perfection.

In the last draft it is you who tells the story if it is long enough.

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