The past few weeks as I’ve been struggling with the mess of the first draft, I’ve questioned if my organic, writing by the seat of my pants with no outline or idea where I’m heading approach was really a good idea. But now I think it is. I never, ever would have sat down and dreamed up this story. Or these characters. They just kind of happened. And then stuff happened to them. As I got to understand my characters, I could put more story around their lives, finally build some tension, understand their goals and figure out what the big climax they’re all heading toward actually is.
I really did like the ending of the first draft. The beginning was slow, as early beginnings tend to be in my world, but it had potential. Actually, I liked the whole first draft, the way you love a four-year-old’s weird crayon self portrait that is really just two squiggly lines, because hello, the kid is just four.
So I say to my first draft, you are just a first draft, you don’t know any better. But you will grow up into a final draft, one of these days. You just need a little time and practice.
Anyway, as I’m deleting and moving so much stuff in this next draft, I wonder if I could’ve made life easier for myself by writing under a more structured plan – i.e., an outline. I hear that people do this, yet I’ve never ever tried it. It just doesn’t feel, well, creative.
My husband Mike suggested that how I write a first draft is like building a house without a blueprint. I know a house needs some basic things: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room. I know a story needs some basic things: inciting event, conflict, voice, characters, climax, resolution.
So I kind of built a house that has all the basic elements, but not so much in the right place. The structure of my first draft is kind of like a house where the front door opens right into the bathroom, and you have to step over the toilet, into the tub and then through the kitchen to get to the living room. My inciting event was on page 74 or something like that.
On the second draft, I’m tearing down walls and really thinking about if I want an open floor living space or a separate kitchen and dining room. And I’m patching up that big hole in the roof. And I’m taking down the four by four room in the middle of the house with no windows or closets because who needs something like that?
It’s pretty fun, this rehabbing of my story. Would I build a house this way? No, that would be super expensive and there’d be a heck of a lot of dust. But for a story, building it without a blueprint works just fine.
So after I get the layout of the house in the right shape (plot), then I have the future drafts where I’m painting and buying furniture. And the final draft of polishing where I’m decorating and finding just the right piece of art to hang on the wall and candlesticks for the dining room table.
And then I’ll have a real house, built in stages, little by little, nail by nail. And inside it will be my book that I wrote, also in stages, little by little, word by word.