by Peggy Bechko
Writing a first draft? Yeah, well, so am I. So I thought I’d bring up a few first draft points. Reminders for the experienced. Suggestions for the less experienced.
The first draft can be daunting. The urge to nit-pick everything from the beginning is there and it is strong. This applies to screen scripts and novels as well. I’ve done both and believe me that urge is always a haunting presence. I mean you know all this stuff. You shouldn’t hit dialog on the nose. You shouldn’t get too ‘wordy’. You need to avoid purple prose and writing. So, as a result you face the first draft with trepidation and you try to do everything ‘right’ on the first round.
Sorry, not happening. You have to be willing to cut ‘n chop, always. So the first draft needs to be whatever you throw on the page to allow your characters to bounce off each other, have fun and develop. See where it all takes you in the context of your brilliant idea. If you’re smart, no one but you is ever going to see that first draft of script or novel. Really. No one. First draft is not the time for sharing. Do what you need to, but not in public.
Look, when you go off on tangents it’s the perfect opening for you to understand your characters better, to see if new subplots suddenly appear or new villains intrude on your reality. What if, what if, what if. Here’s the perfect time to really let go and explore that old writing advice of asking the question what if.
So let that ‘what if’ apply to you as the writer as well and not just the story you’re writing. I mean what if you let go and overwrote? What if you, as writer, take some big risks? What if you wrote with no restraints even for a little while? What if you throw in all the words you’re going to have to cut later so you can really anchor your mind and spirit in the story? Including lots of superfluous details?
Plainly once you move on from the first draft you’ll cut lose a lot of the details that might have been instrumental in helping you get that first draft out. In the beginning you might have to include lots of things such as what type of street it is; dirt, gravel, cobblestone, brick, asphalt in the beginning, but unless it moves the story forward it will be cut later. But later is okay as long as you’re chugging through that first draft.
Remember your first draft is potential, a destination, not a completed and polished work of art.
Again, true of both screen scripts and novels. The difference with screen scripts is they must be even leaner and meaner than the novel. The novel, after all, can be over 100,000 words (long works) but the script is no more than 120 pages (okay there have been a few excedptions) and those pages have a whole lot of white space littered across them. Choose descriptions and pertinent details wisely, Grashopper!
But that doesn’t let you novel writers out there off the hook. Fact of the matter is, most new authors overwrite and create tomes far too long for the genre intended. But my advice remains true. Overwrite, throw out those anchors you need to get it all in the right place in your head, but be sure you know you’re going to have to cut, cut, cut later.
And then be merciless.
Got it? Okay, lock out the world and have at it. That first draft is about to slap the blank page with black ink.