Writing Wednesday 4: The Leg Bone's Connected to the Rough Draft

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rough draft -- the part of writing where you get to make all of the mistakes you want, and a few you didn't even realize were there.

Everyone has their own method for doing this step. Some will outline compulsively, refusing to start the "real" writing stages until the outlines are finished, spell-checked, waterproofed, and hermetically sealed in carbonite to give Han Solo some nice reading material for the flight. I am not one of those people. I tend to write in chunks, so I'm going to go ahead and do some rough work on the beginning of Dark Water. (Again, this may not actually end up as the beginning when things are finished. It's the grand irony of writing a novel that you don't actually know where a journey begins until you're looking back at it from the end.)

My rough drafts / outlines also differ in one other very key way -- they aren't prose.

No, I don't mean that I write novels in verse (though, hats off to anyone who can manage to do that); I mean that my rough drafts aren't novels at all. They're (really lousy) screenplays. I use screenwriting software to block scenes, so that you basically get a slugline (the thing at the top that tells you the setting and time) and a lot of dialog with a few visual, sound or action cues. It helps make the dialog flow, but it makes for a really bad novel read.

Coincidentally, it's also a bad screenplay read. If some internal dialog or introspective emotion cue pops up while writing out this stage of the novel, I'll go ahead and write it in like it was action. (big no-no for script writing).

When I'm done, I end up with page after page of something that looks like this:

I usually go on like this for a few scenes, or until I hit a wall I have to figure out how to bust through, but eventually I'll get several chapters confined to 20 or so pages like the one above. When fleshed out, those 20 pages can easily become 50-60. (I averaged it once, and it came to almost 3 novel pages / script page, except for the sections that remained mostly dialogue. That's nearly dead-on perfect as most 300+ page books will end up as 110 page scripts.)

I find there's actually a benefit in doing things this way. It gives you an external perspective that's hard to reach if you're writing in a close POV like first, or even more so - first present. It forces you to get out of the main character's head and figure out what's going on concerning the actual scenery. This step is also a good place to start thinking about the final POV for your novel. Try writing 1-3 pages in different POV's to see which works best. If almost every scene is about your MC, then 1st can work, but if s/he will be absent for some "really big things," leaving no recourse but to have those things told to him/her, then you might consider alternating POV's or using 3rd omni.

That's all for this week. As always, comments are open for questions or anything else you'd like to say, as long as it's not spam.

5 Chiming In:

Linda said...

Wednesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week! I love reading about how you work. I do have a question: When you hit a wall, do you just try to power through it? Or do you do a lot of skipping around and writing out of order and then fitting pieces of the story together? I'd love to hear more about how you get past walls and blocks.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Usually, I will either try writing in a different medium, like pen and paper - which is surprisingly effective. If that doesn't work, I'll skip the part that's being hateful and go to another (if I know what's coming next). And if that doesn't work, I switch projects. I'm not joking when I say that I have more than twenty semi-written novels in my WIP folder. They're fallback pieces to work on when I need them.

Jessica Schley said...

I've been wondering about the specifics of this part of your process since you posted about it on AW ages and ages ago (but was too shy to poke you about it.) It's cool to see it in action. Great post.

Nel said...

Fascinating process so far. Do you find that this step helps develop character voice? Your thoughts in the last paragraph about POV and external perspective presents ideas that I hadn't thought about before. I normally just start writing in the POV that feels right, but sometimes that leads to changing later if needed.

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