Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Setting Low Expectations



I’m in the midst of my rough draft phase.  This past month, I’ve powered out over 20K words. I’ve mentioned how I’m just slinging the poo like a crazed monkey.
It’s the rough draft, I comfort myself. I’ll fix it in revision, I chant.
That leads me to the question: how rough can my rough draft be?  Is there some magic line between salvageable start to story and unfixable train wreck?
Right now, I’m focusing on getting the plot out. Trying to get a grip of the character’s more nuanced motivations. I usually begin a story with a very general, overarching motivation for my characters. But the why they feel that way, all the details of how they formed to feel that way, it all takes a while for me to understand. I’ve never been able to figure it out at the onset.
At the rate I’m going, I’m probably going to have a very short first draft. And as I figure the characters out, they change, so there’s no real consistency right now. The finer details are completely missing. Very little description.  Secondary characters that require fleshing. Weak verbs and language. As Maureen explained so succinctly this weekend, “It lacks elegance.”
I’ve begun to wonder if this kind of beginning is even worthwhile.  Is writing a 55K first draft (I’m shooting for 80-85K final word count) with weak verbs, little description, and inconsistent characters a pointless endeavor? Am I going to get to the end and think, “This is complete garbage and belongs in my recycling bin?“
I hope not.
The way I see this, I’m going to spend more time in revision than in drafting. Much more. I fully expect to rip the whole thing apart and put it back together. All I expect out of this draft is a plot and it to act as a vehicle to let me know the characters.
I’ve got very low expectations.
My question today is, what do you expect out of a rough draft? Do you write and just hope to adjust grammar at the end? Do you write, slapping it together, and just assume that you’ll only keep a fraction of what you have?  Somewhere in the middle?

21 comments:

MsHellion said...

I think I hope to keep more than I cut, but don't we all hope that? *LOL*

I don't know how I write. I write at first with the grand hope of revising as I go so I have the perfect draft that needs little revision, but around 20K, I realize it's taken me 3 years to get that far and I would like to finish the draft before death. So then I start slinging whatever and shooting from the hip, and I challenge everything because all the characters are evolving into aliens or saying things completely anachronistic. Then I wonder if I'll get to keep anything.

I don't know what's worth it. I mean, I guess eventually it is. I think it's more our attitude than the book itself. Sometimes I think what we're flinging is not as bad as we think. It's just 13th hour genius that we think is bullshit because it's 3 am and the paper is due at noon.

TerriOsburn said...

So far, I keep more than I cut. But then my first MS needs to be totally reworked. Moved from fall to spring. New plot elements added. New scenes added. That will take work. But the one that sold wasn't that bad, thank goodness.

Just keep going. We've heard it a million times and now I'll make it a million and one. You can't fix a blank page. You'll have good bones and a solid plot to work with. That's definitely better than nothing at all.

And I agree with Hellie, I doubt it's as bad as you think right now. You'll finish this draft, step away for a while, then come back and have lots of "Hey, this is better than I thought" moments.

Have faith in yourself, your characters, and your story. That's what will keep you going.

P. Kirby said...

For all my writing neuroses, getting it right the first time isn't one of them. The only time I think of abandoning a project is when I lose my voice, and the writing gets plodding and lifeless.

I expect to cut because I usually overwrite. Current target word count is around 110K; I'm at 70K and haven't jumped into the big conflict (had plenty of minor stuff) yet.

There is usually some drift in character consistency. I know with my first novel, a side character, thrown in for flavor, eventually evolved into the protagonist's best friend. Which meant I had to go back and tweak stuff that was written before I knew that.

With the current WIP, I've recently realized why the hero merrily leaps [into] at the idea of a relationship with the heroine. Given his past, it didn't necessarily make sense for him to be so open to the idea. I don't plan on making changes to early chapters, but I know I'll have to address that in revision.

Because I don't do much revising of early chapters while in progress, once in a while, when I go back and read earlier passages, I'm often surprise how good it is. Not that I'm a great writer. But sometimes, when the words are kind of blurring on the page, it's nice to look back and think, "Dang, some of this isn't half bad. Write the rest, woman."

Anyway, I really doubt your draft is as bad as you think it is. It's probably chuck full of gems.

Marnee Bailey said...

Hells - Sometimes I think what we're flinging is not as bad as we think. It's just 13th hour genius that we think is bullshit because it's 3 am and the paper is due at noon.

I think there might be some of this.

I don't think it's completely awful. Sometimes I read portions and think, "I might be on to something here." Other times I'm like, "This is downright drivel" or "This is the wrong POV entirely."

We'll see. I won't know until I get there. So gots to get there first.

Ter - Just keep going. We've heard it a million times and now I'll make it a million and one. You can't fix a blank page. You'll have good bones and a solid plot to work with. That's definitely better than nothing at all.

This. This is all the stuff I keep telling myself. When I start to panic and I feel like I should reread, go back, otherwise start to revise before I finish, I tell myself this stuff.

So far, it's working. I'm over 1/3 of the way through the story. So, I suppose it's working so far.

TerriOsburn said...

If I know a scene is in the wrong POV, I have to change it. Actually, the scene WILL NOT WORK if it's in the wrong POV. And I will try to force it for a day or two before that little revelation hits. But I can't leave those ones. That's something I have to redo during the rough draft.

But I'll have to layer in lots of descriptions and strengthen the verbs and sentence structure. Also, there are little story elements that will change, like a character going from someone's fiance to his girlfriend because only recently did that guy tell me he's going to ask her to marry him during this story. Would have been nice to know that before I called her his fiance from page one.

Marnee Bailey said...

Pat - But sometimes, when the words are kind of blurring on the page, it's nice to look back and think, "Dang, some of this isn't half bad. Write the rest, woman."

I do this sometimes. It feels good, to feel like I'm not completely off base. Other times, though, I read and think, "wow, did the 5 yr old come in and write this section?"

I think it's okay, though, to know that there's things that will need to be fixed. In the past, I've been neurotic. If something needs to be fixed, I must fix it NOW!

This past summer, I started to wonder why I put so much emphasis on the first draft. I think there's a part of me that believes the real creative stuff happens there. But, I'm not sure that's where my best creative stuff happens. Usually, my best stuff happens after I've read it a few times. In the past, I've just done that reading and revising as I've gone along and I feel like it's slower, for me.

We'll see how it works this time. It might be a big disaster. But it's worth trying to mix up the process, right?

Marnee Bailey said...

Ter - :) It would be nice if our characters let us in on these things, wouldn't it? LOL!!

I've allowed the POV stuff to go this time. I've never done that before. I had one conversation from his POV and I think it might have to be from hers. But the things they say? I think the dialogue is what happens. I can see it in my head. I'm going to see how that works. Maybe it'll change though, and I'll find that I can't go further in a scene or two until that's fixed.

This has been a real learning experience. I'm a perfectionist. Letting it sit around in a mess is not in my nature.

TerriOsburn said...

I'm starting to think it's all creative. The further I go along, the more fun stuff comes to me. But last night I was thinking of stuff I want to add to the first book and I bet in two years there will be something new that comes to be about that first book. Long after it's been released.

If you think of it as a progression of the creative, then it's all fun. Ideas for page 10 can come to you when you're revising page 210. And then you can go back and play with page 10 again. I know the trick is not to revise forever, but it's called a Work In Progress for a reason. It ebbs and flows as it comes to life.

Marnee Bailey said...

If you think of it as a progression of the creative, then it's all fun. Ideas for page 10 can come to you when you're revising page 210. And then you can go back and play with page 10 again. I know the trick is not to revise forever, but it's called a Work In Progress for a reason. It ebbs and flows as it comes to life.

I love all of this. Progress. Ebb and flow. Growth. Exactly.

Janga said...

Marn, creativity is messy. I think if the words are getting on the page, you're creating and your process is working. It's when the words dry up that writers are in trouble.

A while back, I read about half a dozen blogs in a single day where writers from various genres were writing about the writing process and their problems with it. I was struck with just how varied and unpredictable it all is. Reading the blogs and comments (including mine), I came to the conclusion that all writers secretly think that someone else must know a better way to write, one more orderly and less painful that will produce the best work more quckly. But none of us knows that better way. Even Nora Roberts says writing is hard. And when she talks about fixing stuff, at least implicitly, she's saying that she too writes pages that end up trashed. I think all we can hope for is to find what works for us. And it's different for each of us--and sometimes different from one project to another. If you end the day with words on the page, however they got there and however much work you still need to do, rejoice.

TerriOsburn said...

I like Janga's comment. If words are on the page at the end of the day, then it's good.

Marnee Bailey said...

Janga, what a great observation. :)

All writers secretly think that someone else must know a better way to write, one more orderly and less painful that will produce the best work more quickly.

I think to some extent that I believe this. And part of me really wants to believe it's true because then that means I can teach myself how to write more orderly and less painfully and more quickly than I currently write. I'd love to think that there's a scenario down the road in which it's easier.

Maybe that is very much wishful thinking. :)

And, of course, you're right. The process of getting there doesn't matter as much as getting there. When a reader picks up a book, they aren't going to know if the words were slow or started off in a complete dung heap of a rough draft. They're just going to care that they got there in the end. :)

TerriOsburn said...

Beautifully said, Marn. Or is that Mark? ;)

Marnee Bailey said...

LOL!! hahahaha!! Hal's phone must think I look more like a Mark. :)

quantum said...

Having never completed a full length novel, I'm probably talking through my hat, but with my snazy new ramblers hat in place I will proceed to ramble anyway. *grin*

Writing a full length novel is clearly complex and hard. As with most such problems the 'Divide and Conquer' algorithm is usually useful.

So I think the answer lies with the initial plotting. The plot needs to be structured so that sections are well separated with relatively weak links connecting them. These skeletal sections can then be written in draft independently. The connecting links can then be introduced before final revision and polishing.

Whatever you do (unless you are Nora), avoid strong links between the main sections. If you make it too strongly non-linear you are in trouble. Keep the story flowing in as linear a fashion as possible from one section to the next and your (writing) life will be happy and long.

Let me know if any of this makes sense! LOL

TerriOsburn said...

Sounds like the British (i.e. fancy) way to say keep it loose. That seems applicable.

TerriOsburn said...

And I want one of those hats, Q. Christmas is coming, you know.

quantum said...

And I want one of those hats, Q. Christmas is coming, you know.

Sorry Terri. I couldn't possibly encourage you to start rambling. Not till yer famous anyway. *smile*

TerriOsburn said...

Oh, Q. I've been rambling for years. Used to get paid for it.

Famous. Heh. That'd be funny.

Marnee Bailey said...

Q - I agree with Ter; you're saying keep it moving forward and leave some space to flesh it out. Makes perfect sense to me. :)

Maureen said...

Sorry I'm so late climbing aboard. Spent the day gaping at sealife while strolling about the Aquarium...

Logged on and now I feel like I kicked a puppy. Yes, it lacked elegance. But that is easy for you to fix! I don't think elegance comes naturally for most of us. I don't think I could haul elegance out of my throat with a harpoon...but you can, Marn/Mark. And you will! You got the bones there!

Now, what do I expect out of rough draft? I expect the story to be told. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Might not be the right beginning, middle or ending, but they are there to be twisted, warped and fiddled with. The story has a point, a lesson, a theme.

The rest is in the editing. And don't talk to me about polishing, I'm gonna rant about that on Friday...