Thoughts While Drafting

By the end of the month, I will finish the first draft of one of my POV characters’ scenes, from the opening scene to the denouement. (One of three POVs, so the first draft will be 1/3 complete. Think writing Jules’ and Vincent’s briefcase arc, from Royale with Cheese to the final diner scene, and leaving the Marsellus Wallace’s Wife and The Gold Watch arc scenes for later. Though my book is not quite that non-linear.)

I’m aware I’m still in my first draft. I’ve hit some snags and decided to write about them.

Weak prose

I took a hiatus from writing fiction for over two decades. During that time, my skills at writing prose have atrophied (or were never fully developed).

Brandon Sanderson wrote 13 novels before he published his sixth. This gave him his million words of practice and then some. However, it was only when he started revising that he sold a book.

I’m open to rewriting and revising my book five, ten, or more times, to get the story and characters, tone and flow right. That should rocket me past the million words arbitrary metric, if my resolve lasts.

The first draft of this POV’s arc will be in the ballpark of 50k words. That’s a long novella or short novel. I’ll write the other 2 POVs to complete the first draft at ~150k words. Each time I write or rewrite one of these arcs I’m expecting to hone my craft. If I finish this project, I can’t help but improve.

Linear storytelling

While outlining, I was a bit worried about word count: with three full POV arcs, it would be easy to blow past 120k words. That’s not uncommon for epic fantasy, but it might hurt my chances of landing an agent or book deal.

To keep the story tight and focused, I avoided adding subplots other than those 3 arcs. This means each storyline is fairly linear: trying and failing to achieve a single goal, until the climactic scenes.

I’m finding this to be not enough story for my first POV. It feels too linear. I’m running out of color and flavor and the try/fail cycles for this single-issue story feels a bit like scratching the same area of skin until it starts to bleed.

I’ll go further into this in the next section, but one of the things I’ll try is some side plots. If we can get a reveal about the main plot through the side plots, I may be able to add depth and interest without completely exploding the word count.

In this video, Shaelin says “If your story is boring, slow it down”, which resonates.

I grew up speedreading, which matches my desire to see What Happens Next rather than savoring all the sensory details of a single location, conversation, or event. I’m trying to cure myself of it and not gloss over descriptions so much, though I suspect I’ll always be more interested in What Happens Next rather than the style of buttons on a character’s clothes.

I’m going to try a few things here. First, I’m going to mark all the places I should be adding more description. At the end of this draft, I’ll try to picture details, using found images, Pinterest, general brainstorming. Then I’ll add specific details to add depth. Plus, I’ll have to do a naming pass to turn all the Refugee #1’s into real names.

Second, rather than conveying the result of disasters through narration or conversation about those disasters, I want to show the victims’ stories. This means I’ll have a bunch more side characters, but this should enrich the story, and make each of these setbacks harder hitting for both my POV character and the reader.

Third, because the religions are one of my three worldbuilding focuses, a character could retell an appropriate religious myth, legend, or parable to both answer characters’ questions and to add depth and richness to the world.

I’m a little worried about what this means for my word count, but I’d rather have a great story that blows past 120k words than a bad one that is under the limit. Plus, self-publishing is always an option.

Still a fan of outlining

I still believe in outlining, even if I end up rewriting my novel some number of times. I started from a position of inexperience. I’m hoping my next novel I’ll be able to create an outline that will be closer to a working story. It’s also possible that I’m in the middle of the first draft and I have an overly low opinion of my writing so far.

The scene-by-scene outline is a set of signposts for me. Each day I’m drafting I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to write next; it’s already outlined. I do sometimes realize that the scene, as I’ve outlined it, won’t work, and I spend some time to figure out how to make it work. This whole blog post came about because I was bothered by a set of scenes that weren’t quite working. But while I’m writing, I can focus on the prose, tone, and flow, rather than also wonder where it’s all going.

And when I want to change things, the higher level structure lets me see the effect on the overall book.

I’m still a fan.

Finish, then fix

I’m aware that wanting to change everything and start over is a common trap while writing the first draft.

I’m writing these ideas down in the “todo” sections of my scenes, but I’m not going back to change them just yet. Perhaps when I’m drafting the 3rd POV enough time will have passed that I can edit and rewrite the 1st, or maybe I’ll have to let the whole thing sit.