Monday, March 12, 2012

Dianne: Anatomy of a First Draft


I. Genesis:
Every new novel begins with an inspiration comparable to The Big Bang – an explosion of light and matter and creative force capable of producing an entire universe, not to mention critical acclaim, several awards, and New York Times best seller status.  Of course, in the light of the next day, what appeared to be the genesis of life usually turns out to be one of those sparklers you stick in your lawn on the Fourth of July.  But, hey, any light in the darkness is better than none!

II. Pre-Writing:
Here’s where first drafts begin to diverge.  Plotters will tackle the characterization, plot, and theme with the precision of architects and engineers.

Pantsters, on the other hand, will scribble a couple notes on a napkin before strapping on a harness and a bungee cord and leaping off a cliff.

III. One Quarter of the Way In:
About 15-20k words into the story, pantsters find themselves wrestling an alligator.  It’s suddenly a squirming fury of snapping jaws and wicked teeth, with a thrashing tail and a hide too tough to penetrate.  They realize, while fighting for limb and life, that this is not what they envisioned back in that Big Bang stage!

Meanwhile, plotters look at that carefully designed and meticulously implemented story structure they created and discover it looks more like:

IV. Playing Possum:
No matter where the writer is on the continuum between pantster and plotter, at some point the first draft will look like this:

Possum
http://www.flickr.com/photos/baggis/5798341673/

It’s not dead. It’s just playing dead.  Poke it with a stick.  Poke it again.  Google up possums on the internet and verify: It can’t really be dead.  It’s faking.  Isn’t it?

V. The Home Stretch:
Assuming the possum isn’t really dead, the story begins to move again.  The writer breathes life into it, then can’t stop to catch a breath.  Plotters find themselves back on their outline; pantsters discover their subconscious was right all along.  The story moves so fast, the writer can barely keep up.  Forget sleep. Forget meals.  Forget the children and the spouse – they know how to use the microwave, gosh darn-it!

VI. The Masterpiece:
Finally, after a few weeks (or months, or years) of toil, the writer produces the first draft of that brilliant masterpiece, first conceived in a moment of ultimate creativity.


And it looks like this:


Oh well, it’s yours anyway, and you love it.  Besides, you’ve had some Big Bang-ish ideas for Draft #2, and there’s still plenty of time to get your Michelangelo on!

49 comments:

  1. LOL! Love your illustrations of the process. I do believe you've nailed it.

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    1. Thanks, Linda! It certainly is an exhausting process!

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  2. Ah, yes. I know that alligator well. And I'm pretty proud of my stick figure drafts, because, yay, I did it! =)

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    1. Ah, we've both tried to beat that alligator down, haven't we?

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  3. The first draft, though it looks so...ahem, gorgeous...truly is a miracle, isn't it? I honestly think that's the hardest part of writing: getting past the possum stage and finishing that first draft.

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    1. Too true. Not only is the possum lifeless ... it's really ugly, too!

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  4. Love this! Except that it's opossum; you forgot the O.

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    1. Hi, Adam! Technically, yes, but most people in PA call them 'possums. Me -- I don't call them anything. I just scream when I see one looking in the sliding glass door at me. True story. We've got a real bold one who likes peeping through the window.

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    2. I have an uncle with the same issue.

      Just kidding!

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    3. A peeping tom uncle and his pet 'possum would make a great pair of characters.

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  5. A perfect description of the process--thank you! : )

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  6. This is such a great description - I'm in the middle of some of this trying to figure out the process that works best for me to do my best Michelangelo impression :)

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  7. Hahaha! This was AWESOME!! I can't decide if my favorite was the possum or the rickety bridge. Or perhaps the kid drawing. LOVED it!!

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    1. Peggy, I still shudder when I see that possum picture. Those things freak me out.

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  8. Hahaha brilliant! I just hit the 20k mark and I'm a total pantser so yup, I'm wrestling a Nile crocodile at the moment...

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    1. Good luck, Xan! I hope you beat that thing!

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  9. Oh, the dead possum. So perfect. My story ALWAYS looks like that around the half-way mark. Great (and humorous) post, Dianne! :)

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  10. Great break down of the process. I love your imagery: the precision of an architect, bunging jumping, wrestling an alligator,the 'possum and masterpiece. I used to be a panster but the last two projects have been plotted. Neither is easier.

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    1. I agree. I'm mostly a pantster, but I've also plotted. Nothing comes out as planned, either way.

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  11. That was exactly the laugh I needed today. I think I'll go poke a possum and see what happens . . .

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    1. Good luck, Julie! Make that possum get up and get to work!

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  12. haaahaaahaaa--ooh yours has clouds--preeeeteee.
    Fun post. Thanks for the laugh.

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    1. Thanks, Canda! I guess we all can't be Michelangelo.

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  13. Dianne, that's awesome! And it's SO right on.

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  15. So funny, and so true. It was enlightening to see the plotter bridge; so I don't have to switch from being a pantster after all. Thanks, Dianne.

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    1. Nope. I've tried plotting and it's no better than pantstering ... at least not for me!

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  16. oh that plotter bridge was right on, lol, and I needed this 'light' post after the dark :)

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    1. Hi, Marcy! It may have been your complaints about your LWH outline that made me think of that rickety bridge! ;)

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  17. What a great spot-on post. Something tells me you really enjoyed writing it.

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    1. Susan, I admit it. I might have had a little fun.

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  18. This is just too funny! I'm going to have to share this in a Tweet it's that good.

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  19. Dianne, you nut! This is hilarious. I've kind of had a different experience every time it seems. My last MS went exactly like this. The one before flew past like a roller coaster w/me just trying to keep up.

    I'm at about 35K on my new WIP, and for whatever reason, it keeps feeling too quiet. But then I'll go back and it seems really intense. I kind of feel like I'm giving the slow birth to this one. This book needs Pitocin! :D

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    1. Uhh ... I've had Pitocin and I don't have fond memories of it! My sympathies!

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  20. I'm staring at the mangled bridge and realizing that there are 20 hungry alligators wrestling each other down in the water. It's hard not to think I'm better off just building a new home on this side of the ravine and calling it a day :) hehe Alas ... I know what I relaly want is just over that next hill ...

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    1. Amber, I hear ya! I'll be your neighbor on this side of the ravine, because my bridge is looking pretty rickety too!

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  21. You can't forget structure: http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html

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  22. Oh, the dead possum! Actually, my WIP doesn't look like that, I do! Or at least that's how I feel as a writer when my draft is the rickety bridge.

    Thanks so much. Just discovered your blog, going to follow it now.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I just sent a manuscript back to my editor after 5 weeks of feverish work, and I think I'm going to do some possum-playing myself right now!

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  23. This was hilarious, Dianne. Proves what a talented writer you are. And it's so so true!!!

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  24. Diane, absolutely funny, true, and genius. You can die now--your work is done!

    Love the possum because...because it's a freakin' possum! Dead? Not dead? Secretly waiting to attack?

    But did anyone else notice that Adam's penis looks kind of small? I don't know why I think these things. Too much pantsing maybe!

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