Thursday, January 13, 2011

BookMarc # 7, Easy Reading Writing


First, to all you following this line, Happy New Year.

Okay, We touched on first drafts when we talked about composing, so let's look at it more fully, and we also need to discuss the importance of keeping an open note file while we string out words. This is the subject of BookMarc #7.

First Drafts

As I mentioned in the last BookMarc, the first draft is to just get it all down. We might think of it as a really extensive and detailed outline, but also a complete one. And if we started with an outline, now is the time to put it aside. If we allow our first draft to be ruled by a Hitler-outline, we will go goose-stepping along, ignoring logic, rigidly focusing on a planned ending, and probably doomed to the same fate as the Third Reich lasting a thousand years.

A more American way is to go with the flow, hang loose, see where the road takes us. In fact, the sin of first drafts is also their saving grace. Since they are garbage anyway, we don't have to worry about getting everything right. We can relax, kick off our shoes, air out our toes, and let our imaginations run free, knowing full well we'll have plenty of time to correct things later on.

The big problem with changing things as we go along is that it’s more work.

Say in chapter twenty-four we need our hero to zip out his office's backdoor because bad guys are coming in the front. Well, if we haven't shown the backdoor before, we can fudge it by saying, "Sam suddenly remembered the backdoor he had installed a year ago and now jumped through it." Oh yeah. Doesn't that sound cheesy and contrived? And yet I see sloppy writers do this thing all the time. No, what we have to do is go back to an earlier chapter when Sam is in his office and slip in a sentence about the backdoor, maybe he ushers a visitor through it, maybe he has a dartboard hanging on it. Now when he exits that way in twenty-four the reader takes it right in stride.

We need to issue a caveat here. In our example had we been talking about a house rather than an office, we could get away w/o previously mentioning a backdoor because everyone will assume a house has a backdoor.

What if our story works better if we change our murder weapon from a knife to a bazooka? Sam pulled out his knife, which was really a bazooka, and blasted a hole in the Ford Ranger, which was really a battleship. No, we have to go back to earlier chapters and make the change.

It's called setups and payoffs, something we'll talk more about in a later BookMarc.

For now, if we make a change in our story, we have to go back and reflect this in our early chapters. We can do it immediately, or make a note to do it at the end of the first draft. Since I'm usually on a hell-ride to complete FIRST DRAFT, I make a note and keep on charging. Who knows, I might change back to the original before I’m finished. But we better keep notes or we’ll forget, and inconsistences will turn our readers off faster then a three-day-dead fish being eaten by a skunk on a hot summer day.

I recommend keeping a note file open on the computer as we write our first draft. Section it with headings like: Characters; Days/times; Chapters; Needs; Stuff. As we name a new character and describe him/her, stick it in the note file so we don't forget the name or description if that character drops out for ten chapters. When the snippet of a future chapter comes to us, put it in the note file and it will be there when we need it. Names of restaurants, protagonist’s car, phone number, anything we might need to refer to later on goes in the note file. When we finished a chapter, a two or three sentence explanation of it goes in the note file so if we need to locate a bit of business later on, we won't have to parse through the book to find it. It took me a long time to learn this note file lesson, folks, and it's still evolving, but if you adopt it, you'll thank me later on.

I know, I know, this sounds like something dumb when we want to be about real writing. But have you ever tried to go back and search line for line for the name of a character, or the type of his car, or an action that happened six or eight or ten chapters ago, and you don't know have any idea where it is? It can take hours and days. But if we keep up our note file we can get our character's name, type of car, or piece of action in seconds. We also need to keep this file around when we finish our novel. If our book is published, this file will be invaluable when they want us to do a sequel. I call this note file, Things. You may call it Notes, or Checklist, or George.

Finally, once we have written the last line of our first draft, we have the keel and ribs that gives the final product it’s form. It's not complete. We don't have the skin nor the engine; we're not yet ready to set sail, but we can take a full breath of joy in knowing we have written a novel.


And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at:

1 comment:

Sheri Fredricks said...

Nice post. I have a character chart I use to keep, but am liking your idea of a desktop folder that holds info. Faster to look things up that way. Laughed at your skunk analogy too. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.