First Drafts

Over at Clarion’s Blog they’re writing about first drafts today.  I thought that it was interesting that she basically says that her first draft is an info dump and her subsequent ones are where they all get whittled down.  I work something like that, only I add to it first and then subtract.  So, I thought I’d write about how I did my first drafts for the trilogy-turned-series when I first wrote them at the age of 12.

Convention dictates that I should say that I start with an outline, my research, and/or character sketches.  Unfortunately, I don’t.  My life would be a LOT easier if I did.  If you’re just starting as a writer, please give that method a try before you do anything else.  It will save you time.  Since I was little, outlining has always killed me.  No matter what I do, I can’t outline a book before I write it (though now I can outline one after so that I make sure things line up).

First off, my friend Tombo used to tease me that they looked like a crazy person wrote them.  Like I was some nutter seer living in the back of a cave, ranting in my weird little notebooks.  I never quite understood what he meant.  The other day I looked back at them again and went, “Oh! My first drafts from back then look like a crazy person wrote them.”  Tombo was right.  As he often is.  Just don’t tell him I said that…Let me explain.

We’re talking, I tell you every thought my characters are thinking and every detail that they notice.  If they’re visual, it’s every single colour in a flower or how many worms are on the ground.  If they’re auditory, it’s literally every sound they can hear.  My first draft reads like a Bulwer-Lytton line.  [If you don’t know who he is, he’s the guy who came up with, “It was a dark and stormy night” and then continued the line with, “the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”  Seriously.  He chose to start a novel like that.]  My first drafts of the trilogy-turned-series have that much detail.  Also, they’re hand written upside down, backwards, in mirror, and rightside up and forwards.  They’re in multiple colours, including orange and yellow and the palest of green.  There are notes to myself in a language my friend and I made up in 8th grade (that I no longer know how to read), French, and English.  The notebooks are half beat to death with how much I carried them around and decorated with more stickers than really belong on any surface.  They have drawings in the margins and the middle of pages.  I’ve got pages stapled and taped in.  I paid no attention to keeping in one voice so I’ve got the voices of ten characters in one “chapter” and whole chapters crossed out and then notes scribbled across the cross out and the words beneath it.  I know, I know…I’m not that old.  I had a computer at the time.  What was I thinking?  Am I really a nutter?  What a waste of paper!  Who does that?  Answer: Me.

Thank God I’ve grown out of that, right?  Well, I haven’t entirely grown out of it…I’ve just gotten more organized about it thanks to Scrivener.  Luckily, it allows me to type after I’ve got my initial hand written bit and then do all the colours I want to see what has changed and how it’s changed.  It also allows me to keep pictures I find and scan those I draw into it, add word documents, and throw in note cards in every colour under the sun.  It makes order out of all of the chaos that is my first drafts and the subsequent 15-20 edits that are written over that first draft.  I throw in timelines and events.  Colour-coding of scenes by character, narrator, weapons, races, year, etc.  I can do a search for anything I don’t have right at my fingertips.  Brilliant stuff, really.  I do miss the smell of the ink and paper, but it’s so much easier and I end up printing out a completed draft and going through by hand anyway, so it’s not that big a deal.  When I look at the comparison between Scrivener drafts and handwritten drafts, the ones on the computer are a LOT more organized.  Like, someone who isn’t me could actually understand them.  I figure, that’s a good thing.  It’s all about progress, right?

So, how has the way you write your first drafts changed over the years?  I’m curious.  Do tell.

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