1. perfectionist
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    perfectionist Member

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    how to move on from the first draft

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by perfectionist, Apr 22, 2009.

    I've been writing more short stories since first coming to this forum and starting to look into the ideas of story structure etc. by reviewing the work of others.

    But now i've hit a small pothole in the road: I write a short story (usually SF) based on an idea and a twist - a small nugget of plot, I suppose; I write the first draft, usually from start to end, correcting grammar and spelling as I go (I realise this may be a poor way to do a first draft), and end up with something close to - or possibly better than - the original idea that I had.

    I smile, sit back, and say "now with just a bit of tweaking, this could actually be quite good."

    And then I get brain-freeze, and other than minor rewordings, nothing changes.

    What techniques do y'all use to move on from the first draft?
    How do you go about identifying what could be improved, and how to do it?

    I'm asking, because I find it easy to look at someone else's prose and decide if it works for me, but it is terribly hard to do the same for my own work.

    Thanking you in advance for your input,
    Tom
     
  2. Kursal
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    Kursal Senior Member

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    Well I tend to leave my work for a couple of days before starting the editing process. There is a distinct switch, for me, between writing a first and second draft. I tend to have some idea of what I don't think it working. The script I have just written (about to start a second draft today in fact) has two scenes of exposition that I know I want to cut down and too much of the antagonist for a pilot as they need to be more of an shadowy entity until later in the series.

    So I work with those things in mind. I will go to those bits first and read each line, cut out what I can, alter bits, tidy and polish. Then I go back to the beginning and do the same. Often I find that scripts are slightly short by the time I have finished polishing so I may add back the odd bits of scenes that do work and then go through the process again for the third draft.

    I find prose more of a challenge since there is no real word limit, as such. The general rule of thumb is to look at each line and ask if it is actually adding anything to the story. Cut down on guff, that is the basic concept of editing anyway, and think whether there is a better way to convey what you are saying with the written word.

    Something to remember is that no MS is ever going to be perfect so don't aim for perfect or you will spend too long procrastinating. Also, I find it best not to start the editing process until you have finished writing a piece. That doesn't mean that you can't go back and read a scene when you've finished it, but try to avoid making it better, just fix the little things. Getting to the end of the piece is an achievement in its self and that will give you a bigger boost to go in to your second draft.

    There are a few tricks you can use with prose, however. The first thing you can do is see if you can drop the first paragraph or two completely. You will probably find that you can't but it is a good exercise and will let you know if your prose is too verbose.

    Talking of verbosity, do a search for all the words ending in "ly" and loose as many as you can.

    The next thing to think about is 'that'. Try eliminating 'that' from your sentences, you could be surprised at what happens.

    Then you need to find the words you repeat. For some people it's 'very' or 'in fact'. They are usually micro-cliches and every writer does it. You'll find most of these words in the first few pages of your MS and removing them will make your prose read better. Remember not to replace them with something just as repetitive.

    If you're like me then there will be paragraphs that you know are no good but you have put them in there because you have forced yourself to write a certain amount of words for one day, even though the muse wasn't smiling on you at that particular time. Now is the time to go back and fix things. Remove the whole lot if it doesn't work and re-write. You might find that you reach sentences that don't convey the right idea or don't sound right. Try removing as many words in the sentence to make it as succinct as possible.

    I usually loose at least 10% of text from my work during editing. It just pulls things together better. The real trick is to eliminate the useless words. That's what editing is all about really.
     
  3. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    The only thing I would add to the above is to put your completed 1st draft away for a minimum of one month. I usually go much longer, but one month will provide sufficient objectivity to allow you see between your words.
     
  4. FThickett
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    FThickett New Member

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    I agree with Cheeno on the time factor. I usually let my work sit about for a time but I find it helps even more if you write something else in the meantime. Most of my stories end up stealing from one another, since I write others in the downtime of my "primary objective", I call it, I tend to use ideas I wrote in those stories towards the main story I'm working on.

    But I suppose the best thing to do would be to share your story. Other people can tell you what they like and what they dislike and then you can make the choice of what changes to make and what choices not to make. Constructive criticism is always the best way, I find.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. Put it away for a while. And away means away away. Don't look at it. Your brain needs time to do a reset, go onto other things, find new interests, and then come back.

    You'll be mighty surprised once you have fresh stuff in your noggin, just how much more your story can be.
     
  6. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Have an edit plan.

    If you look at editing a whole book, the task might seem unattainable. Set goals of what you'd like to see changed. Descriptive wording, character interaction, dialog can all be worthwhile points to edit.
     
  7. perfectionist
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    perfectionist Member

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    Time, time, time!

    There is a pretty strong consensus from everyone that you need to step away from a first draft and forget about it... and give it time.

    I guess that means I could possibly do something constructive with the stories i wrote before I got on these forums.

    In the end, like everything, this stuff takes practice. I'll learn from friends and from other lovely people on here what reactions they have to my writing, and hopefully eventually be able to put myself into a more disciplined independant mindset in which I can be brutal and constructive with my work.

    I mean... I guess you have to train yourself in the art of self-critique.
     
  8. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I'd have to agree with everyone else... put it aside for a time--the minimum of one month is a good one--and then come back to it. Normally when you come back to a piece, you'll see things you wouldn't have when it was fresh...I can look at the book I wrote and say, 'wow, this is so much worse than if I could go back over it and fix it now.' Since it's already in print, I can't do that...but I do wish I could.

    ~Lynn
     
  9. lipton_lover
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    lipton_lover Contributing Member

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    Unlike most people it seems, to me it's all one fluid process.

    1. I write a first draft. Since all I write is short stories, I almost always have done this in one sitting.
    2. I go through it lightly myself immediately after, catching any grammar mistakes/typos I can find.
    3. I post here. I'm not very good at thinking up how to improve it aside from minor word changes without someone giving me an idea. A lot of reviewers will mention a specific point where they have a plot idea that differs from mine. I then go to that point and see what I can come up with.
    4. I post each draft until no one is willing to help anymore, or I'm satisfied.

    Doing this, I have always come up with what I consider to be pretty good pieces. I'm very happy with what I've written.

    Hope it helps!
    Nate
     
  10. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    In addition to putting the piece away for a period of time, I would add the following suggestions.

    1. Remind yourself that not a single word, sentence, or paragraph is sacred. Each much justify their value to the work. If it adds nothing to plot, characterization or setting, it can go.

    2. Read it aloud, into a tape recorder if possible. Reading it aloud wires around the mind's tendency to read what you meant to write and it's astonishing capacity for auto-correction of typos and spelling errors when you read silently. If you read into a recorder, when you play it back for yourself you can catch flow issues, if dialogue comes off as wooden or stilted, or if a paragraph or sentence just doesn't make sense.

    3. Before you look at each scene for revision/editing, ask yourself, "What do I need this scene to do? What is at stake here?"
     
  11. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Another thing I've found that helps...learn how to be objective about your story. Learn to look at it critically, as if you weren't the person that wrote it, so that you can more easily tell yourself 'well this would work better if...' etc.

    ~Lynn
     

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