I have been going back through my files (mostly from Writer’s Magazine) and rereading Robert Owen Butler, From Where You Dream in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Here is what I have found:
I will write first thing in the morning for two hours, before I am bombarded with all the words, other’s words, life’s everyday stuff, while I am still partially in the dream state, so I can more easily get to that intuitive place of true emotion and imagination.
Write every day.
Some beginnings: a line (poems, billboards, conversation you hear), a list (Who is making it? Why?), a title (Does it suggest a theme? Character? Place?), a character, a situation (Is it troubling? Does it make you wonder?), an event, an image, a subject (a drought, a flood, grade school), an oddity.
Get unstuck: Write a scene where the character enters a new place. Bring in a minor character. Write a monologue for a character you would like to know more about. You don’t have to write in order of your story. Write a group of crucial scenes.
More getting unstuck: Free-write on an emotion, a character, a place. Free associate on a word, a character’s name, a place. Write a list of possible character choices in a particular situation. Why that choice? Have another character make a declarative statement about your main character – does it surprise you? There is less chance of getting stuck if you write every day.
Trust in the writing process. The first draft is exploration and discovery. It is an adventurous journey you begin not knowing where you will end up. I read this by John Dufresne, and got even more excited:
“You have nothing to prove in the first draft, nothing to defend, everything to imagine. . . . You write the draft in order to read what you have written and to determine what you still have to say. . . . You may have a destination in mind, and you may well set off in that direction, but what you encounter along the way will likely alter your course. This uncertainty, though daunting, is crucial to the writing process. It allows for, even encourages, revelation and surprise, while it prevents the manipulation of character or plot to suit a preconceived, and usually ill-conceived, notion of what the story must be. In writing the first draft, you begin to work through all the uncertainty and advance toward meaning.”
You may remove words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters in the second draft, but nothing is ever wasted.
The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written. John Dufresne wrote that, and he has completed two story collections, three novels and a book on fiction writing. www.johndufresne.com.
Have fun on your journey, everyone. I plan to have fun on mine.
You are ready to edit into your second draft. First, do the mundane stuff:
Run spellcheck, only do not depend on spellcheck to catch everything.
Check grammar and punctuation
Look for those extraneous adverbs, particularly those pesky ones ending in “ly.” She does not speak softly, she murmurs.
Delete cliches with something original. This includes overused words.
Turn passive to active. The book was not dropped by him. He dropped the book. This also includes words like was, is and have – be more descriptive.
Have you varied sentence length?
Check for words such as like or as. A metaphor would be better.
Many editors do not like the word, There, to begin a sentence.
Points of view should be clear.
Fix pronouns without clear antecedents.
The not so mundane:
Does your beginning have a “hook?” Are the first paragraphs interesting enough to make the reader want to keep reading?
Does the ending satisfy? You have given your readers expectations. Have you satisfied them? Recall the books you have read where the ending either disappointed or was “just right.” Why?
Does the end of each chapter make the reader want to continue to the next?
Be sure you are showing, not telling.
Timing/pace. Do not include information all at once. Build intensity, then give the reader a break.
Are your characters’ motivations clear?
Use figurative language and simile whenever possible. (Again, be careful of cliches.)
Stephen King came up with an idea. If you have not beforehand, when reading through your manuscript, look for symbolism and theme. He cites the recurrence of blood at three crucial times in his novel Carrie. He realized how its meaning for sacrifice, virgin blood and its emotional connotations would add to the meaning of the book. Symbol “can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work.” He also says beware of forcing it; it should come naturally. If it does not, do not force it.
Theme relates to why you bothered writing the story. What is it about? In your second draft, you want to make this clearer. Focus. If there are paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters of your manuscript that do not relate to this theme, delete them, or save them somewhere for another story.
I will have the detail about all this in future posts. Stay tune.
The blank page. We are all faced with it. Is it exciting, overwhelming or a little of each? Even when you know what you want to write about, where do you start? Easy. You start.
No snickering, please. I meant it because it does not matter where you start, it only matters that you begin. That is what the first draft is all about: beginning, writing along and, eventually, ending. Do not look at what you have written, do not self-correct, only keep going until you get to the end, even if that means days, weeks or months in the future. If there is something you want to add and correct in the beginning, make a note of it, but do not go back and “fix.” You want to keep the flow going. You want the flow to come from a real place within and not be concerned with what anyone else might say or think or whether what you have is a Pulitzer Prize winner or whether it will make you rich. Few writers get rich or can even make a living from their writing. You are writing because you cannot not write.
You have to end that story. Many writers get stuck in the middle or three-quarters of the way through. There is an urge to go back and read what you have written, fix it up, anything but go on to the end. It has happened to me, and maybe it has already happened to you. Resist. Maybe you can’t think of a proper ending, or maybe you cannot say goodbye to your characters. Resist. End it even if there is a nag telling you your ending is a mess. You can fix it later.
Now forget that precious story or novel for a while. Many authors say for at least a month or two or six. Stephen King waits at least six weeks. I put him in here because he knows what he is talking about – don’t you think? You need to look at your story with a fresh mind. Try this, and you will understand what I mean. The longer you wait, the more objective you will be.
The next post will have more about the first draft. How do you find time to write? What is this “from dreams” business? What separates a literary or, even a “good” story from all that mess out there? Stay tune.