Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Make a Mess!

If you were paying attention last week, you'll remember that I said you should never back edit. If you make big changes to your story halfway through, just keep going. Don't go back and fix things. Instead, keep notes of your changes and fix them on your first edit.

Now some of you might object to that idea, thinking, "Wouldn't that result in a big mess?"

Of course it will. That's the point of a first draft. It's supposed to be a mess. It's supposed to be rough around the edges. It's supposed to be garbage.

The reason why is because of something that I think is a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to writing: Your first draft is between you and God! Never show your first draft to anyone, ever. Not your friends, not your family, not your critique partners, definitely not an agent or editor (unless they've specifically asked to see it). Once your first draft is done, you've got a long way to go before its ready for public consumption. So if your first draft is a mess, who cares? You're the only one who will see it.

It's not just major changes that I'm talking about here. Your first draft is the space where you can be forgetful. For example, in my current work-in-progress, Hive, I forgot a character's name halfway through the book. It wasn't a big deal; she's a background character who has maybe half a dozen lines at most. So whenever I needed her name, I just threw in a line of Xs as a placeholder. I did the same thing with a location name. The Xs were my signal to myself to find the right word for that space.

Perhaps another example will help, this one from my soon-to-be-published book, Failstate. When I first started writing, there were three pivotal scenes I knew I had to include. To avoid giving spoilers, I'll refer to them thusly: Bringing It Home, The Big Reveal, and The Last Hurrah.

When I was writing my first draft of Failstate, I included Bringing It Home rather early on. I thought it was a good way to escalate the conflict between two of the characters. But shortly after writing it, I realized that it made better dramatic sense for that particular scene to appear later in the book. Faced with this realization, I decided to move the scene. Rather than back-edit it out and fix the problem, I simply wrote a note to myself that said "Move Bringing It Home to later in the book."

Later on, I wrote in The Big Reveal. I won't go into too many details here, but in said scene, Failstate, our titular hero, figures out something big. I figured it would be great for him to have that information as he went forward. I moved on to start writing The Last Hurrah.

Funny thing, though. As I finished up The Last Hurrah, one of the supporting characters started acting funny. He was all snippy toward Failstate. I couldn't figure out what was happening. Why was he so upset?

That's when I realized what was happening. My imagination or subconscious or whatever governs my writing process was trying to tell me something: It would be more interesting if Failstate didn't have the information he learned in The Big Reveal. The story might actually turn out better if the Reveal happened after the Hurrah instead of before. I thought it over and it made sense. But rather than back edit it all together the way I was thinking, I simply stuck a note into the manuscript that said, "The Big Reveal goes here."

That left me with an odd problem. As I finished up with The Last Hurrah, I realized that I had already written the scene that came next. I didn't want to back edit, but I wasn't sure how I would transition from The Big Reveal into the rest of the story. What to do, what to do? In the end, I simply picked a spot that would definitely take place after The Big Reveal and started writing, figuring that I would smooth out any transitions in the first rewrite.

And so I kept going. When I reached Bringing It Home's new spot in the story, I simply added a note to the manuscript that said, in essence, "Put It Here!" and kept writing.

When I was done, I had a mess on my hands. Not only were three scenes in the wrong spots, the first fifty pages were written in third person POV while the rest was first person. And to top it off, the only what the chronology of the book could work was if a week has eight days in it. It was a mess, no doubt about it. It was too long, there were problems galore, and I had pretty much exhausted myself writing it.

And yet it's going to be published.

In short (I know, too late!), I guess I want to encourage those of you who stumbled across this entry to be messy in your first draft. You've always got the time to fix it later.

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