"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Skeleton

Toward the end of last week, I finished a first draft of my new WIP. Sure, it's wonderful to get it done, but there's no way I'd ever, ever let anyone read it. Why? My first draft stage sort of goes something like this:

1) Come up with an idea.
2) Write idea down.
3) Brainstorm while working on something else.
4) Work on outline, character worksheets, settings.
* I stay in stage 4 until I have an outline with something that resembles a plot. This plot has plenty of holes in it, but I'm not so concerned.
5) Begin writing.
6) Keep writing. Don't look back.

* During this stage, if for some random reason I realize something I've written needs to change, I make a note in the margin and move on. This can be something minor like changing a character's name or gender or something more major like deciding not to kill off the main character's standard poodle. What this means though is that for someone reading my first draft, the dog may die, but then instantaneously come back to life totally unexplained. I'm good with this. I have a note in the margin to change it. But if I were taking someone else's valuable time to read something of mine, the last thing I want them saying is "the dog died and then came back to life. Is this a zombie novel?" (especially since it is not, in fact, a zombie novel).

I like to think of my first draft as being some random sketch of the human body. There are bones missing. Most of it is void of all muscle and skin. Some patches have skin and even a bit of hair, and the baby teeth are just starting to come in. But wait, someone took away one of the femurs; this thing can't stand.

Those writers who outline and stick too it may be aghast at my method. But it works for me. It gives me the skeleton I need to revise. I'm looking at probably re-typing the entire thing this time around. I only realized the true role of two of the minor characters once I reached the end of the novel. I wrote in present tense and I want to change to past. My dual POV characters took plenty of time to find their voices, and even then, they forgot them throughout.
But the bones are there.

How about you? What does your first draft look like?

43 comments:

Angela said...

I write like you do--totally change my mind about something earlier, make a note on the document saying' From here on in, poodle's alive--go back and change it during XYZ scene' and I keep plowing ahead with the change now in place so I don't lose momentum.

Christine M said...

My first drafts are pretty skeletal, but if I decide to change a name or bring the poodle back to life, I'll probably go ahead and make those changes before moving on.

I do leave myself plenty of notes in the margins though.

I always like revisions when I can concentrate on fleshing out that skeleton and putting it in pretty clothes.

PJ Hoover said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one, Angela! For me, the momentum keeps me going.

Chris, this is the biggest reason my first drafts are unreadable. They don't make sense. Once I get past this in revisions, they at least could be read by another human :)

Tabitha said...

I guess my real first draft all happens longhand, in a special notebook dedicated specifically to that story. I start with an idea, then randomly brainstorm until the plot forms, then I let my main character tell me his/her story. But it's never in order. :)

Once the MC has told me his/her story, that's when I sit down at the computer and type it all in. Really, I guess my longhand stuff is my real first draft, and I don't think anyone could understand anything except for me. :) Plus, it's ALL telling, and I would be ashamed to let anyone else read that. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Tabitha, my hand hurts just reading your comment. But I'm glad you have something that works for you. I should spend more time planning ahead. Sometimes I have. Sometimes I haven't.

MeganRebekah said...

My first draft is definitely a skeleton too! My plan is to print it out after completion and just re-type it all and then let the betas have at it!

PJ Hoover said...

I've never actually retyped a whole MS, MeganRebekah, but this time it's totally necessary. I hadn't thought about printing it out and doing it, but I be this increases objectivity.
Thanks!

Carrie Harris said...

Awww, come on. The zombie poodle idea is awesome.

But you knew I'd say that, didn't you?

T. Anne said...

A lot like yours! I write the first draft without looking back and have learned to ignore the big red glaring lines all over the page. I like to move in a linear motion until all is said, then I go back and tediously pick apart my skeleton bit by bit.

PJ Hoover said...

Carrie, I would have been hugely disappointed had you not said that :)

It's amazing what having the skeleton there can do for you, isn't it, T. Anne.

Thanks for visiting!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I don't think I've approached a new story the same way twice. I do, though, treat the beginning process as play. Somehow starting isn't as hard this way.

PJ Hoover said...

Sounds like a good way to view it, Caroline. Play is always nice. I think I'll give this a try on revisions!

Miriam S.Forster said...

My first draft is usually crap. I don't let people read it until it at least makes sense. But I try not to change anything major until I get a little feedback. (I'm awful when it comes to second-guessing myself.)


I know what you mean though. My Nanowrimo book started out in third person and switched to first after a couple of chapters. NO WAY is anyone going to see the whole thing until it's consistent. :)

WV: wheessul. As in "Captin, there's a strange whessul approaching."

PJ Hoover said...

You sound like Chekhov, Miriam :)
This is exactly the kind of this I get in my first drafts. It does make for an amusing set of first revisions.

Anna said...

I wish I could outline and then go through a skeletal draft and worry about fixing it later, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm such a control freak that you'd think outlines would be my best friends, but I've had very little success with them. But because I'm such a control freak, I need to make my first draft as coherent as possible, so it can take forever sometimes because I just can't leave something alone if I know it has to be changed. I usually get a draft or two down, and THEN I outline, to help me figure out the overall structure of the story. It's a totally backwards process but it seems to work for me.

PJ Hoover said...

It's a wonderful process, Anna. Everything works differently for everyone, and I bet your first drafts are awesome.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I thought my first draft was pretty tight. My crit buddies liked hearing it and wanted more. But I realized that I hadn't gotten the bones quite right. Now I am totally rewriting. Barely looking at the first draft. I know the characters and what they need to do much better this time around. I don't regret at all what I learned writing the first wild draft.

PJ Hoover said...

Me, too, Tricia. I've learned a ton in first drafts. I love that!

Lady Glamis said...

Excellent way to describe your process! I think it sounds like it works fantastic. You should write a zombie novel someday. ;)

Kelly said...

I'm mostly a PB writer, and I write it all in a spiral notebook with things in the margin, crossed out things etc. So when my critique group gets it, it's not exactly my first draft.
For my first chapter book, I pretty much had the idea in my head and went with it, making minor changes later then to the critique group (and it was not yet polished, but they offered excellent feedback). I think when I try a YA in the future, I will outline and do more framework first. Congrats on your first draft done. That is an accomplishment!

lotusgirl said...

I'm still figuring out the best process for me. I'm trying to see if I can do my writing like I blogged about a few weeks ago about what Orson Scott Card said. From beginning to end and then be done. Haha! We'll see.

Trisha Pearson said...

Your first drafts sound a lot like mine. Even with an outline, I find it impossible to think through every detail and sometimes it takes getting stuck to see the problem. I've decided "keep writing and don't look back" is the best policy for me too.

Great post! It makes me feel better about the 2/3rds of a rough draft that I have done!

beckylevine said...

The first draft I'm working on seems, at this point, to be some lovely poetical writing with seriously not enough direction or action. I think I'm working through some feelings/reactions that will help figure out choices in the next draft. I hope!

I was just thinking about blogging re whether to critique first drafts or not. I'll definitely link to this post for people to read!

Robyn Campbell said...

Hey! Yours resemble mine. Go figure! :) Except my notes aren't in the margins. They are all over the place. On top of the original sentence, in margins, and on top of the paper or on the bottom. You'd think I couldn't read the story that I have written, but I can. :) i know exactly what I have done. Scribbled notes all over the paper but I know what I wrote. It's like a disorganized person that has papers strewn out all over her desk. Yet she can grab what is needed out of the mess. :)

storyqueen said...

I seriously try my best on the first draft, convincing myself that it couldn't be any better written as I am writing it.......but geesh, yucko. Thank God for revision.

My first drafts are a perfect mess.

Shelley

PJ Hoover said...

We can write a joint zombie novel together, Michelle. Or maybe a short story collection. :)

It is interesting to see how the process would differ for various types of works, Kelly. I wonder how I would do with a picture book. One day I'll try!

LOL, Lois! I cannot even imagine from beginning to end and be done. I remember your post and thinking the same thing at the time :)

Lady Glamis said...

Hah, sounds like a good plan to me. :)

PJ Hoover said...

It makes me feel much better about my first draft, too, Trisha! I bet yours is awesome. And it's nice to leave room for deviation.

I would love to read your post on whether to critique first drafts or not, Becky! I will look forward to it!

Somehow scribbling the notes makes it seem more like it's moving along into something big, Robyn!

PJ Hoover said...

I do think my first draft writing quality is improving, Storyqueen. But I'm pretty sure the plot and character development can use tons of work on them.
Thanks for visiting!

MG Higgins said...

I love hearing about your process. Your first drafts make my first drafts (which I consider messy) seem fairly organized in comparison! :) Thanks for sharing.

PJ Hoover said...

You're welcome, MG! I find my first drafts amusing to say the least :)

Danyelle said...

You are one of my heroes! This is an awesome post, and I love the picture. *grin* After my Novel of Doom that had a very steep learning curve, my first draft is pretty much my last draft so far as plot, scenes, and characterizations go. I have to flesh parts out or reword awkward phrases, and fix grammatical errors though.

*wishes it was possible to have a perfect first draft*

beth said...

I...don't outline.

At all.

And I can't focus on more than one story, even if it's thinking about it.

When I get an idea, I think on it for a few weeks, then I write it down in story form as quickly as I can, before I lose it. I might make a few notes while writing, but nothing before, never with a clear idea of what happens next!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Danyelle! Novel of Doom. I LOVE THAT! Can you even imagine a prefect first draft? I'm not sure what I would do with myself.

Thinking on more than one story is impossible for me, too, Beth. It's like trying to put together animal bones from a sinkhole into correct skeletons (nice comparison, huh?).

Kelly H-Y said...

I love hearing about your writing process! Great comparison!

Solvang Sherrie said...

My first drafts have holes and cliches and notes to myself, but damn it feels good to have it out of the way! Congratulations :)

Elise Murphy said...

I *love* the bone analogy. I'm always saying that second drafts are for adding flesh, so that must mean I'm working with bare bones, too.

I just thank goodness we get to revise. As many times as we want. Because otherwise - uh oh.

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Kelly! It helps me feel better about my first drafts :)

What you said, Sherrie! Especially the cliches which many times I add a comment saying "remove cliche".

It would be a nightmare, wouldn't it, Elise. No revisions. I cannot imagine. I can't imagine being constrained to not having a computer to work on which makes revisions so much more accessible.

susanwrites said...

Depending on what I'm working on my first drafts are usually in longhand and in no way resemble anything approaching a book.

It is a painful time for me, just trying to get down enough of something so that I can revise. I leave notes on all sorts of scraps of paper and generally am a very disorganized writer. That probably explains a lot about me. :)

I do need to talk about an early draft with someone even though they aren't reading it. I need to bounce a few ideas off a friend and see if they stick or stink.

PJ Hoover said...

Great thoughts, Susan. I have not tried to talk about an earlier draft, but totally see the value in it. I may have to give this a try at some point.

Christina Farley said...

I think this is really a simple and great way to work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the perfect format, we forget the perfect story that flows naturally. Great post!

Lisa Marie Mary said...

Thank you so much for sharing this - I found it very interesting. 'Seeing inside the writer's mind' - during the process. I love it!

I think I'm definitely going to have to grab up your books - I love MG/YA novels. I'm reading "Artemis Fowl" right now.

PJ Hoover said...

I can't agree more, Christina! some of my best writing comes when I'm not trying.

You're welcome, Lisa Marie Mary! And thank you for stopping by. I have the first Artemis Fowl book here but haven't read it yet. Great reminder!