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When Drafts Go Bad

Sometimes, drafts go bad...

I have the perfect short story in my head. It grew from a great, all-evening brainstorming session that handed me world, characters, theme, plus the first and last scene. But like all good stories, those excellent plans didn't pan out. At all. That evening was back in February, and since then I've gone back and forth to the story without once figuring out what actually happened in between that free lunch and the toaster at the end.  

Thanks to a critique group deadline I put in another scene that didn't lead anywhere. It was a good scene, great character dynamics (if I may say so myself, which I will because I say what I want). If only that scene had been part of a plot...

This week, I decided to have a breakthrough. As in, finish the damn thing. I started thinking about plot again and came up with a line that was so obviously designed to move the plot that I decided to drop it as soon as it was on the screen. Except... with a little work, I might get it to work.

So I did a great deal of thinking about what kind of story this was and concluded It is a story that focuses on the world -- and so basically I needed to tell more about the future that forms the plot backdrop. I'd already figured out who would have an interest in art and reconstruction (the story themes), but I needed to figure out who ruled this world. And I needed to answer this: How would you convince someone to defend a changed world that gave people fewer ressources on hand?

After that, the story wrote itself. Two hours on Thursday, an hour and a half on Friday, and I had a resonable first draft. Full of holes, of course. But those first and last scenes? They fit the story now, because the world they describe worked. And guess what? The plot even found a logical conclusion.

So I guess what I learned is: sometimes the advice to 'write, write, write' doesn't always improve a story or make it believable. Sometimes you have to delve into the world you're describing, look inside some of the populated buildings (or the ruined ones), and take a look at the different life condistions applying to the story. You have to think, experiment, and figure out what kind of story you're telling. Because that's the way Bad Drafts go Good.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 14th, 2011 11:12 am (UTC)

Without them, we couldn't have good ones. When I started A Time Never Lived, I wrote 30K words of the wrong story before I discovered the right one. Sometimes, you just have to keep writing that stuff as a way of digging up what you need. Like buried treasure! Huzzah! A pirate reference! Wait...what was I saying?? Oh, yeah, good work! :)
May. 14th, 2011 11:56 am (UTC)
The treasure hunt is an apt picture for this story. And boy, did I have a lot of digging to do. Like with A Time Never Lived, the wrong story sometimes has to get out of the way before the right one shows up, and that really calls for perseverence. I'm glad I didn't have to discard 30.000 words, though :-)
May. 14th, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that part really sucked. 30K words, several weeks of work, but I can't look at it as time wasted. I thought the story was going to go one way when it clearly needed to go another. Live and learn, eh?
May. 16th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
That's such good advice. I agree - Big Thinks can be immensely constructive. For one reason or another, my writing time has been reduced in recent months, so I've been doing lots more Thinking (with a capital 'T') about the story I'm writing, which is proving really useful.
May. 16th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
Thinking certainly worked for me this time, and it's not the first time I've put a story to rights that way. Other times I've had better luck sitting down at my keyboard and just hitting random letters until a workable start turned up. I specifically mentioned thinking because it gets so little publicity on the web :-)

I hope your thought processes leads to something good in its own time. Even if being seemingly 'non-productive' can be frustrating, it's an important part of creative work.
May. 17th, 2011 05:07 am (UTC)
I couldn't agree more. And you're right - thinking time does get very little press. So many articles and books talk about the whole 'butt-in-chair' principle, which is all very well and good some of the time, but active thinking time is just as valuable.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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