Saturday, July 5, 2008

The first draft...

The first draft of a novel is different for every writer. Some of us plot out extensive details, line by line and they have answered every story question before they ever put fingers to keyboard for the first page. Others start writing and see where it goes--generally they have an idea of what the story is about, but everything that happens between the very shadowy sign posts along the way is a mystery. In the business, these two factions are called plotters and pantsers.

I used to be a pantser. I would fixate on an opening scenario--more than a scene--a situation, I suppose. It would be very vivid for me and this would be my starting point. Sometimes I had a goal or ending in mind and a few, "I want this to happen" ideas. I wrote my first 3 books this way and I'm told they are very good. The received critical acclaim and awards and I was happy with the finished product, so I'm going to accept that as truth. (Though the artist in me will always doubt this). Bu the problem with these books is that it took me a very long time to write them because I didn't know where I was going.

When I started my 4th book, HAUNTING BEAUTY, I wanted the entire process to be better. I didn't want to hit page 200 and have a melt down because I had no idea what came next. I didn't want to go back and rewrite 20 of 30 scenes because the focus had changed. I wanted to write the book in a reasonable amount of time and do it with a process that could be repeated.

The last was the revelation I needed. A process that could be repeated. See, when you pants it, you go where the whim takes you and since a whim is just that, it can't be duplicated. But I knew that plotting was not in my genetic build. I'd tried it before, written copious outlines only to get bored with the story by the time I began to write and to discard all those notes and ideas. I needed a process that would embrace my creative needs but also channel that creativity in a more productive way.

My solution was to plot the arc of the story instead of the action. What this means in layman's terms, is this: I look at the story I want to write and instead of plotting

I. Chapter One
a. Hero goes to store and buys a candy bar.
b. candy bar has golden ticket to Wonka Land in it
c. Hero invites grandpa joe to go with him

I would plot this way:

I. Chapter One
a. Hero in ordinary world where everything is out of his reach
b. Hero is invited to leave his world but is afraid.
c. Hero takes an advisor along

In this way, I leave the door open for my creativity to figure out what ordinary means and what the world of my story is going to be. But I know there are very definite stops on hero's journey, trials that he will have to overcome and successes he will achieve. I know where in my story these need to be revealed--but the WHAT is all a mystery so I still get the fun of putting it all together.

If you're a new writer and trying to sort through all the methods that popular authors use and you're getting lost, try it this way. More information on the hero's journey can be found in Joseph Campbell's HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES or in countless books written about this book. I may be the help you need.


Sara said...

I've struggled with the same issues, Erin. You gave a good explanation of boiling it all down to the essential arc. I look forward to reading HAUNTING BEAUTY in 2009!

Erin Quinn said...

Hi Deb, thanks for the comment. I think the first draft is the most difficult and I'm always terrified during it that I'm writing the worst book ever thought of. In fact, I'm feeling that now with the draft of my new one. I think the hardest part is comparing the draft to the last thing I completed--which is polished and as close to pefect as possible. It's not apples to apples, it's apples to an entire fruit arrangement with mangos, pineapples and kiwi. :)