First Draft Doozies

Sorry, I just wanted to alliterate a little bit.

I am knee deep in a first draft! I’ve been flirting with some novel concepts since finishing The Edge of the Woods, but for whatever reason – I still love all of them – I just couldn’t commit to any. Wrong timing, maybe. Wrong headspace, probably. But last week I took the plunge, and I’ve pledged the next few months to a YA/Children’s fantasy adventure story. I’m 12,824 words into what I hope will be a 30,000 – 40,000 word novella, and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Everyone approaches first drafts differently. Sometimes they even approach them differently between ideas. I have a method for writing first drafts for scripts, which I’ve adapted a little to suit my prose writing, and have adapted again between The Edge of the Woods and my current project.

Cei’s Killer First Draft Battle Plan
Step 1. Get a bit of an idea. Take a lot of showers and baths and think about it until it ignites into a full-on, sustainable, must-write idea.
Step 2. Write down everything you know about the plot, in order. It might be the inciting incident, the ending, a really great scene. Whatever.
Step 3. Plot! Fill in the gaps between what you wrote down in Step 2. How are they linked? What leads to what? What choices does our hero make to get themselves there? It’s like the most fun puzzle ever.
Step 4. Write! Expand all of your plot points into scenes. Write from the beginning through to the end. No editing. The writing will not be good. The story will not make heaps of sense. The characters will not be consistent. It doesn’t matter. Let the story and characters find themselves. Fixing everything is for the subsequent drafts. If you get stuck, leave a placeholder and come back to it. If the style isn’t working, try a different one. Just keep moving forward.

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 I do all of my best writing in re-writing, but I can’t fix what isn’t there. So for me, slapping the story down in it’s barest form works best. I also work best when I know, generally, where I’m going. It’s probably been ingrained in me from scriptwriting, but I need to plot out my story. I didn’t do this for The Edge of the Woods in my first attempt at the first draft, instead ‘pansting it’ as the cool kids call it. But I found myself running into dead ends a lot, so I started plotting a few chapters ahead and writing up to there. Like checkpoints in a video game, if you will. It worked better, but it wasn’t ideal, so this time I’ve plotted the entire story and I feel much better about it.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned character work or character sheets. I don’t really bother with either. This is not to say I don’t think character is an incredibly important aspect of all books and writing (personally it’s my favourite aspect of writing and reading) but I like to find my characters through writing the story. I do the same with scripts. I like to spend a draft on story, then a draft on character, and let each one shape the other. It’s kind of a drawn out process, but again, it works for me. When I start my first draft, I just have the name of my protagonist and their motivation, and maybe a few secondary characters.

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There are some people who prefer to make detailed character charts or do intensive world building, or people who prefer to completely wing everything, or edit as they go. There’s no one correct way to approach it, and there might not even be one correct way for you. Just play around and find out what works for you.