1. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Style In your first draft, do you worry about style?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by daemon, Nov 23, 2014.

    This is a question to those of you who write by the seat of your pants.* It is also a question of clarification to anyone who would give the advice of "just write" to someone who is stuck on brainstorming or planning.

    When you write your very first draft of a scene, what constraints do you apply to your writing style? What constraints do you only apply to revisions?

    Some examples of constraints:

    Narrator's knowledge. Assume two characters are simultaneously doing different things in different rooms. One of them is the point-of-view character, i.e. the reader only knows what that character knows. Each characters' actions are important to the story because they will have consequences on the other character. Do you write what each character does, just so you can see if it works out logically on paper, with the intent to eliminate knowledge unavailable to the POV character when you revise? Or do you restrict yourself from writing such knowledge in the first place? (Related question: do you ever write a first draft in first person, or do you always write in third person even if you intend to change it to first person later?)

    Narrator's voice. Do you ever prevent yourself from writing a sentence because you are trying think of a way to write it so it "sounds" right? Or do you just write whatever knowledge comes to your mind in a matter-of-fact way, with the intent to revise it later so the same knowledge is expressed in a consistent voice that enhances the experience of reading? This especially applies to first person narration.

    Character's voice. The dialogue counterpart to narrator's voice. Do you allow yourself to write wooden dialogue, where the characters just express their thoughts or they express information you want the reader to glean from dialogue, without worrying how that "sounds"? Do you ever write something like "_____ made a witty response that made _____ laugh" with the intent to go back later and think of something specific for the character to say? Or do you stop yourself from moving forward until you have written dialogue that sounds somewhat natural and conveys the information you want the reader to know?

    Character opacity. Related to narrator's knowledge. How transparent do you allow the characters to be? That is, how much internal monologue and how much statement of internal state (even as simple as "that made _____ happy") do you allow yourself to write, just to keep yourself as informed as possible about your own characters, before finding another way to express characters' thoughts or deciding not to express them at all?

    Those are just some possible constraints; I am asking if you apply those constraints or any others to your first draft.

    As a perfectionist who is utterly dependent on a plan, if someone told me "just write" and I took that advice, then I would be inclined to apply no stylistic constraints whatsoever to my first draft. I would just write what happens in the story as it happens, in the easiest, most matter-of-fact manner possible. That is because I interpret "just write" as a way to combat writer's block, and if I ever stop for one second to worry about how I should express a piece of knowledge, then that defeats the purpose of combating writer's block.

    Is that how you write your own first draft, if you are a pantser*? Is that how you intend for your advice to be followed, if you say "just write"?

    * By that, I mean you write in a linear fashion with minimal planning. When you need to decide what happens at a given point in a story, you strongly prefer to write complete scenes, one after the other, to discover from those scenes how the characters themselves want to behave, and to let the characters move the story forward. Contrast that with beginning with a high-level goal in mind regarding the direction the story should take, then adding layers of increasing detail, e.g. by going from the high-level goal to a few-paragraph plot synopsis, then to a few-page plot synopsis, then to a list of scenes, then to a rough outline of each scene, or some other plan-driven process.
     
  2. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I actually just write! And it's never perfect!

    There are always plans and a basic story line in the background and my writing is put to one side every so often in favour of research and plan changes but, I write out of order and as my characters 'act out' in my head so a lot of first drafts that concern characters are actually heavy with dialogue. A lot will be 'he said' or 'she said' with minimal action/movement/description/emotion.

    When I go back to the beginning of that section for a read through, that's when I start thinking about surroundings and movement of characters, what are their expressions? where are they (indoors or out)? what are their emotional states? etc and as I read through, I add those things in. Sometimes the dialogue changes with the addition of these extra bits, sometimes it doesn't.

    Then I will usually leave it for a few days while I work on something else. When I go back to it, I make more changes and also take time out to do any extra research or check any facts. This is also where paragraphs sometimes get moved about too.

    I don't always stick to a rigid plan though.

    The thing about writing, is you don't have to get it right the first time ...
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It helps to know if you are writing in first person or not. But it depends on the draft. Just getting the basics of the story out, it's not that important. But a true draft rather than a detailed outline, you might want to have some idea how you are planning to present the story to the reader. That doesn't mean it can't change as it evolves, though.
     
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  4. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    That's a good point! I write from two POV and can be known to go back and change the POV if I think that particular part of the story would work better seen through the eyes of MC1 or MC2
     
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  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first drafts are my only drafts, other than considering what my betas mention and then polishing, so whatever I write is what I want the reader to read. (And yes, I'm a discovery writer, through and through :))
     
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  6. astro
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    astro New Member

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    Yes, I do pay attention to style because I feel it's important to help me set the tone of whatever I'm writing. Start as you mean to go on, and all that. I find it hard to ignore style because for me style is the sort of framework that keeps my story from running wild.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I pay attention in so far as I try to get inside the character's head and write from in there - so it's not so much a conscious consideration as it a part of how I write.

    On subsequent drafts I catch little errors, but overall? Most of the heavy lifting is done in the first draft, and subsequent rounds are just fine-tuning.
     
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  8. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I wrote in the characters' POV (there are two) while writing the first draft. I tried to get in their heads. For a few chapters, I ended up switching the point of view to the other character.
     
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  9. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    For me, I write the way I foresee my book.
    I won't do things differently than what I want in the final draft at the moment. So, it's the correct PoV, dialogue is all in there, any italics/font changes/inner monologues are all there.

    If something occurs off page, I don't write it out as all I need to know is the result of the occurance. The details are irrelevant and just slows down the already long enough process of writing.

    Of course, during the course of the writing, new ways to present something emerge and what not but that's what editing after is for; getting all those little things in and making it neat and tidy.

    Rarely do I do a full rewrite, maybe an odd chapter or two that needs a fresh yarn of words.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think @daemon 's thread OP is filled with lots of good ideas for first draft writers.

    However, me? I wrote my first novel with chapters out of order, but I wrote each one as completely as I could. I didn't consciously leave gaps in dialogue or otherwise. Of course the mistakes were many, and I had to rewrite a million times, but I never consciously skimped or wrote stuff I knew I didn't want to keep. Having said that, I didn't edit too heavily during the writing, either. I'd go through stuff the next day, or a couple of days in a row, then move on.

    However, I'm doing my second novel a bit differently. I'm trying to keep to chronological order, as I know what this story is going to do, unlike the first one which took me some fairly unexpected places. Again, though, I'm trying to get it 'right' as much as I can, without over-editing. We'll see if this approach works.

    One thing is odd, though. I'm now so aware of writerly mistakes that I feel my writing has cooled considerably. I over-wrote terribly the first time, but this time I'm not. I'm not over-using adjectives or adverbs, or restating things, or getting all melodramatic ...and I think my writing is now a tad on the dry side. It's the opposite of what happened the first time! Bizarre.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know what you mean, jannert!

    My first novels were a series, and looking back at them, they were a babbling, overwritten mess! I wish I could go back and edit the crap out of them (but they got published, so... time to let go).

    But I think the reason they found and audience despite the babbling was that the emotion was there. Lots of emotion, gushing out onto the page. When I started trying to refine my writing and make it tighter, I found it harder to get that emotion in there. I was too conscious of writing as craft, and it got in the way of writing as expression.

    Still a balance I fight with.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Good, I'm glad I'm not the only person who's experienced this. How weird, though.
     
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  13. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heart vs. mind, maybe?
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Enthusiasm vs experience?
     
  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Age and experience?
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yin and Yang? Cat and Mouse? Gin and Tonic?
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thoughts. And apologies for the old-style quoting.

    A quibble from toward the end of your post: My "pantster" style doesn't mean writing complete scenes in order. I may well say, "OK, Emily and Henry met somehow and got into trouble somehow; now I want to write the scene of them escaping from the bad guys through...er...some kind of urban thingie. And it's raining. Yep, raining. And I think it's dark. ACTION!"

    > Do you write what each character
    > does, just so you can see if it works out logically on paper, with the
    > intent to eliminate knowledge unavailable to the POV character when
    > you revise? Or do you restrict yourself from writing such knowledge in
    > the first place?

    I would probably just write what the POV character does/sees/hears. But that wouldn't be a rule--I would allow myself to write whatever I have the impulse to write, I just wouldn't expect to have the impulse to write the other character's actions.

    However, I might visualize them--I might get up and walk around the house muttering to myself, visualizing the other character's actions. I could easily see another writer doing the same thing by writing it instead.

    > (Related question: do you ever write a first draft in
    > first person, or do you always write in third person even if you
    > intend to change it to first person later?)

    I would normally write whatever POV I plan to use in the end, but, again, if I have an impulse to do otherwise, I will.

    > Do you ever prevent yourself from writing a sentence
    > because you are trying think of a way to write it so it "sounds"
    > right?

    "Prevent", no. But sometimes I do have trouble getting into a scene until I get the mood right, and getting the mood right sometimes depends on getting the words right. However...OK, how to put this? it's not as if there's any hesitancy or fear about getting the words wrong, it's just that I need to get the right flavor so that I can keep writing. If I end up completely changing those words later, that's fine.

    In fact, if having a character say something completely incorrect gives me the right flavor and gets me going, that's OK; I'll fix it later. For example, the character might remark on the pouring rain outside because I thought of a great "that's so her!" phrasing about rain, even though I know that the scene is going to end up being in dry weather. I'm confident that I can come up with a "that's so her!" comment about hot dry weather, later.

    > Or do you just write whatever knowledge comes to your mind in a
    > matter-of-fact way, with the intent to revise it later so the same
    > knowledge is expressed in a consistent voice that enhances the
    > experience of reading? This especially applies to first person
    > narration.

    I try to write well enough to keep me in the mood of the scene, but I definitely know that I will massively revise it later. I usually do try to maintain the voice of the character, in first or third person, but I don't worry about slipping sometimes.

    Sometimes if I'm completely uninspired about something, I may just write summary to get to the next interesting part. ("Emily and Henry escaped from the riverboat somehow. Henry is limping for some reason. Now they're trying to hotwire a motorcycle. ACTION!")

    > Character's voice. The dialogue counterpart to narrator's voice. Do
    > you allow yourself to write wooden dialogue, where the characters just
    > express their thoughts or they express information you want the reader
    > to glean from dialogue, without worrying how that "sounds"? Do you
    > ever write something like "_____ made a witty response that made _____
    > laugh" with the intent to go back later and think of something
    > specific for the character to say? Or do you stop yourself from moving
    > forward until you have written dialogue that sounds somewhat natural
    > and conveys the information you want the reader to know?

    In this situation I would probably sumarize. It rarely happens that way, because dialogue is what's easiest for me, but if I went dry on dialogue I might well write "Henry finally gets a chance to yell at Emily about the Faberge egg. Emily's all 'Egg? What egg? What is this egg that you speak of?'. Then they get shot at and have to get going. ACTION!"

    > Character opacity. Related to narrator's knowledge. How transparent do
    > you allow the characters to be? That is, how much internal monologue
    > and how much statement of internal state (even as simple as "that made
    > _____ happy") do you allow yourself to write, just to keep yourself as
    > informed as possible about your own characters, before finding another
    > way to express characters' thoughts or deciding not to express them at
    > all?

    Hmmm. In theory I might summarize this. ("Emily is angry that Henry's more concerned about the egg's safety than about hers.") In practice, I never have. I think that I have complete faith that I'll remember how the character was feeling, or that if I forget I'll come up with something just as good. I don't know if my faith is misplaced or not.

    > That is because I interpret "just
    > write" as a way to combat writer's block, and if I ever stop for one
    > second to worry about how I should express a piece of knowledge, then
    > that defeats the purpose of combating writer's block.
    >
    > Is that how you write your own first draft, if you are a pantser*? Is
    > that how you intend for your advice to be followed, if you say "just
    > write"?

    More or less. That is, I advocate breaking any rule that is stopping you from producing words, and following any rule that is allowing you to produce words.
     
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  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think about style always. That's the reason I write! The story is somewhat important, I guess, but what I want to communicate to the reader is the song of all of it. I probably shouldn't be a prose writer. I should be an epic poet, but there's no market for epic poetry. I'd like to be read at some point. :p

    When I'm writing my first draft, I try to perfect each paragraph as I go. The alternative is, as far as I'm concerned, to have a huge pile of smelly garbage that basically needs to be rewritten from word one, and that's a terrible prospect for me.

    If I'm going to write, I'm going to write as well as I can, every time I sit down at the desk. I'm not going to say, "This is crap, but I'll fix it in revision." I'm going to write as well as I can, every time I sit down. I don't sit down to write garbage. This is the reason I write. I wouldn't bother writing if I thought garbage was okay. I write in order to make something I think is beautiful. That means beautiful from the very first word of the very first draft.

    I revise a lot. Getting the prose right in the first draft doesn't mean getting the story right. I'm a pantser, and my stories usually change quite a bit as I'm working on them. So I sweat buckets over pages I know will be cut, but that doesn't bother me. I enjoy it.

    You may think this means I do a lot of unnecessary work. You'd be right. But as I say, I enjoy it, and besides, maybe it isn't all unnecessary. :)
     
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  19. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    For me, what I'm training myself to do is to just write. Yes, I want things to look workable, but for the most part, I just write. If I notice that something doesn't make sense, I either make a quick note of it or brainstorm a possible better solution. I don't want to cut off the flow so I can edit the above paragraph to the nth of perfection. That'll wait until after it's all down on paper and ready for the red ink.
     
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  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Totally in agreement with this.

    The very reason I edit/revise as I go is to skip unnecessary work - I can't think of anything more "unnecessary" than finishing a book and then going back and tossing half of it so I can rewrite it. But, in reality, if it's going to take a particular writer six months from start to completion, it's probably going to take six months whether they revise on the go, at the end, or somewhere in between.
     
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  21. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I was watching an interview with an author on YouTube (can't remember the name, it was a long time ago), but basically she said that what she gained in craft as her career progressed, she lost in energy. She said the first book she wrote had a lot of technical mistakes but it was more vibrant than the ones that followed it. Maybe this is normal at first:confused:

    I don't know if these disconnects are temporary until the author finds a balance, but they're definitely very interesting. It makes sense that heavy editing results in less innovation because it's more of an intellectual exercise.

    And Daemon, I don't know if this helps, but when small children write they always start with an idea first. Grammatical conventions at this age are not yet well-developed but that never seems to stop them. They get the idea for the story in their heads and they're off and running instantly. They write the words they know (in any spelling they can think of), then they move right on, going from sentence to sentence to sentence. They talk a lot as they write to help themselves formulate the idea, and when they're really stuck on a word (or just very young:)), they begin to draw pictures. Every author should watch a child write at some time or other because it's such an education. You see that the NATURAL inclination of the human brain is to tell a story first, then follow it later with convention.:)
     
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  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are times when I write crappy on purpose - or, at least, times when I know I'm not getting good quality, but just want to get ideas down.

    Like, if I'm not sure where the story's going for a while, and then get a brainstorm, I just slap that down on the page. No details, no structure... it's essentially an outline for a scene I want to make sure I don't forget.

    So, when I'm writing, as I define it to myself, I try to chose the right words. But sometimes when I stop writing and plan ahead a little, there's no style.

    (I guess I'm a hybrid plotter/pantser?)
     
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  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The only constraint I have is to stay true to the voice/mood I create for the story.





    I stick with whatever pov allows. In one story I had the mc taken from a party by a rapist. The tension was would the mc realize what was going on and escape or would a friend at the party realize that the mc was missing and go searching and rescue the mc. The pov allowed for the cutting back and forth of the scenes but if I was to write it in the mc's pov then I wouldn't have bothered writing anything down. I would've only been concerned with the friend's arrival - not what precisely delayed him. If I focus too much on what the mc isn't allowed to know it could easily slip into the scene.



    Once I establish a tone for my stories it's very hard to shake it. It can take a while to evolve, a few hit and miss pages or paragraphs. I didn't really understand my tone for Not Pink until I wrote this sentence a couple paragraphs in -
    - I understood my tone then - sweet and a touch sad. With that firmly entrenched the story went quite smooth.

    The character's voice is so linked with the narrator's tone that it's very hard to dissect the two. No matter the pov. Wooden dialogue is virtually impossible when you have that tone down pat because each line is thought in the tone and manner of the story and character. It's not something I'm entirely conscious of. Maybe I have an easier time of it. I used to play stuffed toys when I was little ( a cuddly version of dolls ) I had four stuffed animals with different voices and personalities and when I got into the game with my friends I became the character. I didn't have to think about it. It's pretty much the same thing when I write regardless of pov.


    I try to avoid a direct statement - I am happy, that makes me happy. Instead I want the scene to build to point where the reader gets that the character is happy and why. It's like the movie Moonstruck. You don't need to know Cher is happy you see her face and watch her kick a tin can and you just know. The build up makes the moment. I think when people feel the need to include stuff like this is when they don't have the proper build up. Or fear they don't.



    I don't think 'just write' means throw out constraints or common sense ( filter words etc) or style. For me it means don't be dependent on inflexible outlines that buck discovery. And pantsing is no guarantee against writer's block. I've planned out novels before and when I say planned I mean planned. I had street maps, character bios of even name drop character's, I did drawing and storyboards. etc. It can work. But even when I planned the freshest aspects of the story were when I went away from the set storyline and character bios.

    - By just write I mean don't allow planning to turn into procrastination. I spent more years planning details of novels than actually writing them. The writing ( usually ) only takes three months.

    ( I usually write linear but if a scene comes to mind while I'm writing, I'll write it out. For instance I was working on a story with a peculiar set of twins - one who had complete dominance over the other - in one scene the dominant twin insists they eat in perfect synchronization. This scene was to be a flashback and didn't work in my line up but I wrote the scene out and saved it. )

    ( I always write to find out why I'm writing and why my characters are doing what they do. Goals are usually vague for the first draft. I love seeing subconscious aspects come to the surface and taking those themes and running with them second draft. Precise planning is great for things that need tightly knit pre-thought details - mysteries, thrillers, historical epics. But for a looser story you could miss spontaneous inspiration. In Not Pink I had no idea Mr. Willoughby would be a stripper that wasn't planned. In fact first thought given the name that came to mind I thought he would be a retired man. In The Worms of Wicher-Woo I had no idea how Tetty would communicate with the worms - the sock puppet Czar came out of nowhere. )

    As for your main question - Style is the only thing I'm focused on in the first draft. If I can harness the mood I want than the story is ten times easier to write. Without the style it's harder to convey what I mean, telling becomes more obvious, character's flounder and the only thing holding it together is the plot which without the other things better be amazing.
     
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I totally recognize myself in what you guys say. I have experiences the exact same thing with my attempts of writing my third novel. That now that I'm aware of these things my writing lack the energy and passion that it used to have when I was writing out of joy and didn't care about these things at all. And I almost wish I didn't know about how it's supposed to be, because now it's preventing me from even finishing that first draft since it seem so terribly plain. It's a feeling that I need to learn to write all over again. From scratch.
     
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  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's also tied in to why books like Twilight, despite apparently being poorly written, find an audience. It had lots of emotion. (As I understand it - never actually read it, but...)
     

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