1. john132
    Offline

    john132 New Member

    Joined:
    May 19, 2014
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    3

    Just how sh!tty is a first draft supposed to be?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by john132, Jun 8, 2014.

    I've had an idea for a story for two years that I've been working on and I'm realizing now that there's just too many characters, points of view and plot twists to do any sort of outlining for it, and that's what I've been doing for the last two years - just outlining for four hours a day and then attempting a first draft and getting to 10,000-15,000 words and then scrapping it and going back to outlining and the cycle of never getting anything done.

    I have all the main characters in my head and I know what their personalities are and I know what their plot twists and functions are in the story. But with all of these different things that I want to put into the story like different themes, points of view, and plot it seems impossible - and believe me I've tried - to outline all of these things into some vague two-or-three page paper and then thinking it's just magically going to be brilliant and coherent and everything I wanted it to be, without even having written it. If this were a simple story, I know I could do an outline. But, and I know this is probably a novice mistake, I want to make an epic and I'm already too many years invested into it and with the characters to just scrap it and do something else for practice.

    I read a quote today that read something like this, "When you ask for advice, you already know the answer but just don't want to believe it."

    I know I'm here asking for advice and I do think I already know the answer - that I just have to write it and not care about the first draft (which is my biggest problem). And I know it's going to be shitty and not exactly how I want it. But, just to alleviate some of my fears just how sh!tty is a first draft supposed to be?
     
    sylvertech likes this.
  2. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,722
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    First drafts can be as shitty as you need them to be. There is no lower limit on first draft quality. Federal inspectors will not show up at your door demanding to see your first draft, only to fine you if they decide it stinks too much. So fear not!

    The first draft of my first novel must be one of the worst in history. I started off like you - I wanted to write a huge epic. I envisioned a 1,000-page tome full of too many characters, too much history and mythology of the world I'd created, too much of my own fairly juvenile philosophy, too many intertwining plots, and so on. I happily charged into it. Fortunately, I quickly found that only one set of characters and their plot were far more interesting to me than the rest of the nonsense, so I just started focusing on them. This means the first part of the draft is overstuffed with irrelevant and confusing bullshit, and it isn't until about a third of the way in that I finally settled down and concentrated on my two real MCs. Even after that, the book still took several wrong turns and got padded with myths I'd already written but no longer belonged. The whole thing is a huge wet mess.

    After I finish a few more short stories (and probably my other novel), I'll get back to it and complete the second draft. That one will be awesome, I'm sure. :D
     
  3. Berber
    Offline

    Berber Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2011
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    United States
    I think you hit the nail on the head. The first draft is a means for you to get your ideas written, on paper and out of your head. Your first draft is never going to be a beautiful thing, but you shouldn't let that discourage you. Writing is frustrating, but having that sh*tty draft written still puts you leaps and bonds ahead of the other aspiring writers who are still just daydreaming about their stories.

    From my experience, even when I edit as I write, I still wind up painfully dissatisfied with the initial finished product. Thank goodness for the editing stage! And if it seems beyond salvaging at this point, I agree with minstrel, sometimes a bit of distance can help you come back and refocus on what it is you really want to accomplish with the piece.
     
  4. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,528
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    You may discover that you have characters and plot elements, but not a cohesive story...at least not one that can't be told in under 300,000 words.

    That is what came out to me through your post as I read and thought about it. If you cannot outline in the a very basic way after years of effort, the direction that a storyline will take, with the characters, their personalities and plot points intertwined, there might be concern that there is too much going on (or you desire too much in the mix) for a flowing, coherent storyline.

    Hammering out that first draft might allow you to determine what needs to be in the story and what must go, because sometimes a story needs to be cut and trimmed for the betterment of the overall quality in the end.

    Good luck as you move forward.
     
    xanadu likes this.
  5. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,205
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    As said before, as shitty as you need it to be. The point of a first draft is to basically 'puke out' all your ideas onto a sheet of paper. Once it's there, you'll be able to see what direction it wants to go to, what works and doesn't work, etc. It may make perfect sense in your head, but it's better to have it down on a piece of paper.
     
    aikoaiko likes this.
  6. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,837
    Likes Received:
    10,013
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Every clay sculpture ever made into a piece of art, at some point in the creation, literally looks like a huge turd. Literally.
     
  7. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    First drafts are as shitty as you want them to be. Some people "puke out" words, others only write one draft. But, as TWErvin2 pointed out, it also seems to me you have a bit too much going on. It may be one story, but it definitely sounds like more than one book. Much as you seem to dislike the idea, I would scale it down, work on the theme, characters, and plot that you are most excited about, and get that written. Then look at what you left out, and see if that can be woven in or (more likely) made into the second (and possibly third) book.

    The first story I wrote, after years away from writing, included everything but the kitchen sink. It wasn't bad, per se, but looking at it now I can easily see where I could have made it two connected stories (or even two completely separate ones) and it would have been the better choice. But somehow I had this idea that it could be the only thing I ever wrote, so get it all in there! Hmm, yeah. So just make sure you're not just trying to fit too much into that first story because, after all, you've thought of all these neat things.
     
  8. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    It depends what you call a first draft and how you go about it. If you write 90k words without planning, you don't revise or edit just write, you might end up with something full of inconsistencies, cliches, SpaG errors, unrefined ideas and language, in other words a very rough draft that needs a complete re-write. If you plan and edit, it'll take longer but you might end up with something reasonably coherent that just needs polishing up and occassional re-write and shuffling around of scenes, povs, stuff like that. It depends entirely on your process.
     
  9. ToeKneeBlack
    Offline

    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2014
    Messages:
    592
    Likes Received:
    207
    The important aspect of a first draft is for you, the author, to be able to understand it. A complicated story can be difficult to fully understand until it is written, typed up or drawn out visually.

    You can use the first draft to identify continuity issues, plot holes and things that would be out of place in the fictional world you're trying to build.

    As long as you can establish a clear structure, you will then be able to build on it for future drafts, adding extra details, removing excess details, figuring out what sorts of things your characters do and say until you're ready to sort out details such as spelling and grammar a lot later on.

    And if you've got too many ideas for one book, split them into several stories. That way you can focus on one adventure at a time - you could even write the same story twice from two different perspectives with the endings tied together in each book.
     
  10. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    I don't think the planning really has anything to do with it - but definitely if one doesn't revise or edit, the first draft is going to be a hodge-podge.
     
  11. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    it's not supposed to be either shitty or perfect... just whatever you put down on paper first time around... some writers turn out near-perfect drafts from the get-go and others' first drafts need countless edits before they'll be ready to submit...

    don't let whatever is 'normal' for anyone else affect how you write or how you feel about how you write!
     
    xanadu likes this.
  12. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    It depends entirely on your process, and you won't discover your process until you actually start writing.

    I make every draft an attempt at the final one, though I don't stop to edit along the way (at least, nothing major). Instead I think about what I'm going to write before I write it, so it's a bit slow going but slightly higher quality comes out of the keyboard. Of course, that doesn't mean I won't have to go back and find all that useless action, accidental POV breaks, objective summary, filtering, and a host of other writing goofs I still manage to make.

    The first draft doesn't have to be garbage. It depends on how much you just let it flow out or how much you edit along the way. People swear by either method, and many use a hybrid method (myself included). But you won't know what works for you until you write. So get to it!
     
  13. sylvertech
    Offline

    sylvertech Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2012
    Messages:
    126
    Likes Received:
    12
    My case is a lot similar to yours.

    Anyway, my point is that writing a first draft isn't going to cut it out unless you have things planned out.
    If there are some characters, scenes, and events that you already decided will be included, start writing them.
    However, with all the other material on hold, you might have to return to change the text to make it compatible with the other material.
    So, yeah, you have to have a general idea planned out.

    However, only you know if your material is ready to be written.
    If you still spend time thinking about changing the plot, then you might not be ready yet.
    Again, it is up to you.

    Just make sure you keep writing. Whether it be outlines or scenes or summaries of things to-be.
     
  14. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Have to totally disagree with this. One doesn't have to plan out anything. You may have to, but many others don't.
     
  15. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,205
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    I agree with @shadowwalker . Some type and watch whatever comes out, not everyone likes to plan down to the most minute detail wait's going on in their stories.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,934
    Likes Received:
    5,472
    There are many different ways to write a novel. The main point that I take from your post is that the method that you've been trying isn't working. And in all that time, you've probably tried a lot of minor variations on that method, so I think that you can conclude that that novel is not going to be written by that method, period. It's time for a very substantial change.

    You've rejected the idea of writing a completely different novel, so that substantial change is out. That would have been my recommendation, but I'm not in charge here.

    So the substantial change needs to be in the method of writing. You've come up with a proposed new method that is a substantial change from the old one. None of us can say whether it's going to work, but none of us can say what method will work. So I say go for it.

    Edited to add: Oh. I didn't answer the actual question. I think that lousy writing, occasional shifts into authorial notes like FIGURE OUT WHY JOE IS AT THE HARDWARE STORE, characters who change names and professions and marital status halfway through, thirty thousand word digressions that are going to be deleted as soon as you start the second draft, so many plot holes that you have to move them to a separate list because you can't focus on the novel with all the authorial notes, and all sorts of things like that, are just fine in a first draft.
     
  17. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    Like Maia said, a first draft is getting things down on paper. Some writers, and I'm not one of them, put down a near perfect draft from the get-go. It takes me several revisions to get mine right, but that's not what I think about when working on my first draft. All I'm concerned with then is to just get the story on the screen first and then smooth it down later.

    Now that you've finished your first draft concentrate on polishing your work.
     
  18. john132
    Offline

    john132 New Member

    Joined:
    May 19, 2014
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    3
    Hey everyone, OP here. This is long so prepare yourself but there's a good ending to it. I read everyone's post and they were all very helpful in giving me a different perspective other than my own on writing first drafts. The best advice, though, has to be the one that sparks something in you and what makes you understand and realize the problem you've been struggling with for so long. It is that my current method is wrong and that if I want to finish this story I have to change it.

    What I need to do is just write the story. Although I have come to admire it, outlining is just not working. To paraphrase George R.R. Martin, I know the general direction of where I want to go just not all the twists and turns along the way. That will be my outline from now on: just the general direction of where I want to go that I've had in my head for so long.

    I started writing my first draft after I made my first post in the beginning of this thread and I stared at what has been my most worst fear in writing: that blank page. Looking back on it now, I feel I've dreaded that blank page so much because whenever I come to it I freeze and I realize I have no idea what I want to write and I feel like a failure; which in a way is wrong because I know what my story is about because I replay it in my head all day long. It's just when it comes to writing it down I don't know how. I feel I can only generalize it, which was probably why I liked outlining, because it gave results - which I'm discovering now aren't the right ones.

    So what I did to get over this blank page problem was I listed the 6 w's (when, where, who, what, how and why) and for the first chapter I thought of how would I answer each of these questions: like, "Who is in this chapter? What happens in this chapter? How does it happen? Why does it happen? When is it? Where are they?" When I had all those answered, and it didn't take very long, I saw I had somewhere to start. I just basically copied and pasted my answers into the first draft and changed the tense to third-person and when I read over it it read like a story. I've just been doing that and now I'm up to 4,250 words. And the great thing about it is how easy its been and how I'm not just sticking to one thing and dragging it on but am constantly moving from one event to the next.

    It most likely is formulaic but when I read over it it didn't seem I was using the 6 w's for each paragraph. It read like a story that gets straight to the point and only explains enough of what the reader needs to know to understand what's going on. Which is exactly what I wanted. I haven't once explained what a character looks like or what kind of clothes they're wearing, and before that was so important I thought and would write, "he wore a blue shirt and jeans," but why would you have to write that unless those two items specifically came up to mean something later in the story? I recently googled why japanese people drew their anime characters white and not japanese, and what I found was that to them they weren't purposefully drawing white people or purposefully not drawing japanese people; what they were doing was just drawing what they believed what a normal human being looked like - the default. That was a big breakthrough for me when I looked at that for my writing. It was that readers will just assume your characters are wearing default clothing, like a blue shirt and jeans, or look like a white person as those are all the default to those things.

    I haven't explained at all what my character looks like or what he's wearing unless it came up in the story and needed to be said, which is what happened. When I read over it and put myself into the reader's mind, I just assumed my character was white and was in regular clothing, which is exactly what he is. If he was black or asian or wearing a big funny hat I think that would have some importance to the story because the other characters would have some reaction to that, subconsciously or not, and I don't believe that's racist because even if to a japanese person the default human is white why would a reader assume a character in a story is anything else unless it was said so? To me, it is just brilliant that I now know I don't have to worry about that and can just have faith that my readers will get it without me having to explain it. And that's common writing advice too, to have faith your readers will get it without having to explain every little thing to them.

    I've started my story and to me that is a success in moving in a new direction and don't see myself stopping anytime soon which feels pretty good. I'm just going to keep following my method of the 6 w's and George RR Martin's advice: that although I may get lost along the way I will find my way back to where I want to go.

    Hopefully this post isn't too much of a waste of time for anyone reading it but I just wanted to express my new thoughts on where I'm at and that I've improved. That something is going right and that I've figured out a solution to my problem. Thanks everyone, I'll probably be back soon when I hit another road bump.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
    ChaosReigns and sylvertech like this.
  19. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Well, that's the whole point of asking for advice - to get a slew of options from which to form the method that works for you. :agreed:
     
  20. sylvertech
    Offline

    sylvertech Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2012
    Messages:
    126
    Likes Received:
    12
    OP I actually learned from your post and I think I'll do the same.

    Thanks
     
  21. ChaosReigns
    Offline

    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2013
    Messages:
    1,090
    Likes Received:
    455
    Location:
    Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom
    i was going to suggest a different method, but it seems that you have that worked out, late last year i decided to do NaNoWriMo, and didnt plan one single thing for, it. i know exactly how frustrating it is staring at a blank page, especially at midnight on november first. part of me wished id planned, but i hadnt and pantsed it through, now two books in i realise there could be a lot more to this novel than i initially anticipated.
     
  22. criticalsexualmass
    Offline

    criticalsexualmass Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2013
    Messages:
    131
    Likes Received:
    60
    Location:
    Kentucky
    give yourself permission to suck, just don't make it your goal to suck. Write it down. Catch that tiger in the net. THEN worry about how you are going to pull its teeth (or whatever other kinky thing it is you do with a tiger, I don't know..)
     
  23. john132
    Offline

    john132 New Member

    Joined:
    May 19, 2014
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    3
    I'm glad to hear this. Your welcome. :)

    I had just realized something about when writing first drafts and then I saw this post and I think it is within the same vein of thought. It's that when you're writing your first draft the paragraphs don't have to make sense or even have to be in the same tense with each other. You can just write it in anyway that you want as long as you get your ideas down. Obviously, though, however, it does has to follow the same story and be at least somewhat coherent with the other parts but I don't think it has to be as much as I thought it had to be. I am happy I realized this, and I'm happy you said that, and I hope this breaks some of my bad perfectionist tendencies that I have trouble dealing with when writing first drafts.
     
  24. EllBeEss
    Offline

    EllBeEss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2013
    Messages:
    301
    Likes Received:
    108
    Location:
    Perth
    Personally I know the first draft of my WIP is all over the place and full of plot holes but that's not a problem for me until I go back and edit. Whenever it starts to get to me I remember what an art teacher once told me back in primary school, about needing your mistakes on the page so you could correct them, and know that I'll fix them and they may even help. What matters to me at this point is getting it down rather than getting it perfect.

    Personally I'd be very careful about using different tenses, even for a very rough draft. IMO not catching it early and correcting it as you go could allow you to get sloppy with it later and just create more editing for you later.
     
  25. Nightstar99
    Offline

    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2013
    Messages:
    259
    Likes Received:
    136
    Your outline sounds like a bit of a tyrannical task master to me. Why not just get on with writing the draft and see what it turns out like?

    If you've really spent 4 hours every day planning I can see why you are quite attached to it, but it doesn't seem to be getting you any closer to turning out something finished.
     
    minstrel likes this.

Share This Page