Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Table Talk: Drafting Procedures

Welcome back to Table Talk, a column where New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock gibber-gabber about whatever writing related thoughts come to mind. This week, the fellas explore the work before the work.

Question: What are you trying to accomplish with the first draft of a story -- is it mainly about getting the story out as quickly as possible and then fixing it in the editing stages or do you try to get the technical aspects right from the start, figuring you can tweak the story in revision?

Bobby: For me, getting the first draft down quickly is important, but I try to get it as right as possible and then go back over it and tweak it where needed afterward. Usually, this means adding set ups, moving or removing blocks of text, or just fixing mistakes I made in the first draft. I’m especially bad about repeating words so those are caught (hopefully) and corrected in the second draft.

Regardless, no first draft is ever perfect. This was one of those early lessons that my ego had to learn. No matter how much I might like to think every word I write is pure gold, more often than not the first draft is a hunk of lead with gold spray paint on it. Ha! Ha!

Mike: For me there is no one answer to this. Sometimes the first draft just nails what I'm after and I only need to do minor revisions afterward. In other cases, the first draft is really just me trying to explore the story and see where it takes me, then the second draft is what nails it. Other times, I work an outline first, then do all the heavy lifting in the first real draft.

Barry: For most projects, my intent is to get the first draft done as quickly as possible, hitting on all the main points. I use this draft to work out the story and see if there’s anything that I haven’t thought through well enough. I can always go back and adjust it all after I’ve gotten the first draft done… but I don’t generally do any editing until the first draft is complete.

Bobby: When outlining, for those who do, how much information do you put into the outline stage? I know some writers whose outlines are roughly the size of a small book itself and others, like myself, whose outlines don’t fill a full sheet of paper. What method works best for you guys?

Barry: I don’t outline. If what I’m working on is really complex, I might create a file that includes a series of names and brief lines of text – for example: Joe Smith (plumber, witnesses murder, dies?). But those are just to remind me of things that I think I might forget along the way. Outlining is the number one way I can kill any enthusiasm I might have for a project.

Bobby: I’m right there with you, Barry. I’ve tried outlining, but what I find is that when I start working on the actual writing I’m bored because I feel like I’ve already told this story and don’t feel like telling it again.

Barry: Yeah, the thrill of discovery is important to me in terms of enjoying a project. Even doing the requisite “pitch” for a story has to be handled cautiously. I want to give enough information for them to approve the story and know where it’s going to go but I don’t want to lay it all out there, either. I need room for improvisation.

Mike: I outline most of my comic scripts, then break it down further to what happens on each page before I do the actual first draft of the script. With short stories I find myself getting away from that more, and sticking with a very loose plot I've worked out in my head beforehand. With my Runemaster novel, I put together a very rough outline, that was barely more than a few paragraphs, mainly to use as a road map so that I make sure, when writing the first draft, I'm always moving towards the intended conclusion.

Bobby: With shorter pieces, I have recently started writing notes and bullet points directly into my Word Document so they are easily seen as I write. I also add character names so I make sure I spell them right, or more importantly, don’t forget they’re there. Once the story is done I just delete that part It seems to be working for me so far.

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