Writing Tips - Chapter 3 - The first draft

Writing Tips - Chapter 3 - The first draft

The first draft is where you take your basic plot outline and really beef it out. One way is to turn each point of your plot outline into a chapter. Some chapters will be longer than others because some plot points will take up twice as much time to tell - so don't keep to strict word counts.

The first draft is also where you begin to take the writing seriously. This is where you slow down and try to bring the story off the page with the right amount of detail to create visual images, and the right amount of dialogue and action to bring the scenes to life.

Focus on scenes

A book is just a collection of linked scenes, and to keep the reader interested, the scenes have to work. In order to for scenes to work well, they need to engage the reader, but not bore them. Here are a few things to consider.  (note: MC = Main Character)
  • Set the scene, but keep it short. A nice visual image is good, but too much detail is boring. Give us a flavour of the location and get on with telling the story. 
  • Who’s story is it? Do we care about them? How do you make the reader side with them?
  • What does your MC want? Is there an obvious goal?
  • Conflict - is there a problem in this scene? If not, why not?
  • Other characters. Are the characters different enough? Do they have conflicting opinions?
  • What does your MC have to lose? If there is nothing at risk, there's nothing to care about.
  • Is it believable? If you don't know what you're writing about, the reader will realise it. Do a bit of research. If your MC goes off-road biking, make sure you know what is involved. 
  • Action. Is the scene animated? People move and do stuff - have actions, but just like the scene description, too much action will bore the reader. Don't go over the top.
  • Cliffhanger. Is there a need to read on? Have you ended the scene in the right place, or have you dragged it out?

Show, don't tell

If a character is feeling an emotion, don't just say it - show it. Someone is angry? They shout, grind teeth, clench fists, throw things... that's so much better than saying, "She felt angry." - that's just dull.

Completing the first draft

This is where the hard work kicks in, but you need to get through this. You will reach a point (usually, about one third into the book) where you think it's utterly rubbish. Every writer I know gets that. Push on, and push on and push on. Once a scene is written, leave it and move to the next. When you're writing each scene, make it as good as you can but don't waste time polishing and editing or you'll never finish that first draft. You'll end up thinking, "This scene could work that way, but it could work that way too..." - don't waste valuable time. Make a decision, nail it down and move on.

As you go through the first draft, you'll probably realise that things aren't going quite according to your plan. This is because you are developing each point to a much further degree, so problems are bound to crop up. If that happens, just go with the flow. Your plan is just a starting point - most books take their own path at some point or other.

New problems will crop up that you never spotted in your plan. That's normal too, and it's often only possible to solve by doing something you never thought of before - maybe your character can only escape this scene if they have a certain piece of equipment. Let's say, for example, a spoon. Don't just have them find it. There's a much better, much sneakier solution than that...


So your character needs a spoon or something to unlock a door? Simple. Go back a few chapters and tie it into the story at an earlier point. Make it subtle - if it's very obvious, ("Hey, look a magic key - I bet we need that later!") your reader will be shaking their head. Give your MC a decent reason to have that item, but don't make a big deal of it. Likewise, if the story relies on them to be an expert in something, go back and drop hints at that expertise earlier. Foreshadowing is a tricky balance. If it's too subtle, and your reader doesn't spot it, they'll feel cheated. If it's too obvious, the book will feel too young for them.

Next scene:

Never take the reader where they want to go. This means if you ended on a cliffhanger, don't start this chapter with the answer. Go to another scene and end that on a cliffhanger first.


Brilliant. You've written a book. You've achieved your goal. You can stop here if you want. Some people even go straight ahead and publish (see Chapter 11, self publishing). But if your ultimate goal is to get your book on the shelf of a shop, you've got a bit more work to do. This is where editing comes in.

No comments:

Post a Comment