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First draft problems

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Bearman1, Apr 20, 2015.

  1. Bearman1

    Bearman1 Scribe

    Hi all,

    It's been a while since my last post on here, I have been really trying to knuckle down with the first draft in my WIP, but I now have a problem and I'm hoping you will be able to share your own experiences with me.

    So, the problem: I am currently 70,000 words in my first draft. A lot has changed since the first chapter regarding almost every aspect of the story; Place names, character names, personalities, plot points, etc.

    I am currently torn as to whether to push on, finish the first draft and then go back and re-write the preceeding chapters, or do I go back now. Re-do the beginning, make it all fit coherently and then finish the story.

    I am sure that I am not the only one who has had to face this dilemma and so I would love to hear what you guys do.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated!
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    It depends.

    The standard advice is to push through, finish, & then rewrite to fit the changes. The wisdom there lies in the understanding that your story changed already, and it will likely change again.

    Do you know, without a doubt, how the unwritten section will go, through the ending?

    If no, I'd say push through to the end before revision. If you're certain how things will end, then early revision may not waste time. However, I have to ask, what do you think you'll gain by going back and revising the earlier chapters before finishing the draft? There are reasons to do so, in my opinion. I'm curious what yours are.
  3. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'd say this is key. Your story has changed a lot since you started and chances are it will change again. Now, you've probably written most of it, and you're fairly familiar with the characters, so the remaining changes probably won't be as big. Still, there will be changes and you will get to know your characters a little bit better.

    This can only be useful when rewriting the earlier sections.

    I had the same thing happen to me. I discovered somewhere halfway through my first draft that my beginning no longer matched up to what I was writing at the time. The plot wasn't right and the voice was wrong.
    I stuck with it though and finished the entire first draft before I went back and rewrite the start though, and I think it's better for it. Among other things it gave me the opportunity to foreshadow the appearance of two characters I didn't know about until very close to the end.
    Finishing the thing and then changing up the beginning later also gave me the satisfaction of having actually finished something.
  4. Bearman1

    Bearman1 Scribe

    Thanks for the feedback T.Allen.Smith,

    I see your logic that the story will likely go through further changes in the future, I'm currently only just beyond the midway point so a lot is bound to go through developments from now until the end.

    I have an ending set in stone but the chapters inbetween are still nothing more than notes in my pad.

    I suppose the main reason I want to go back and revise the beginning is to get the foundations set within my own mind. That way I have something solid to fall back onto when considering character and plot developments in the future.

    But what I am most worried about is if I start revising now then I will never actually finish the draft. And so I think I will take heed of your advice and push on until the end.


    It sounds like you experienced this in the same way that I am now. I like the idea that finishing it first will allow me to go back and use foreshadowing, I can only imagine that that is very satisfying to do.

    I like what you are saying about actually finishing it too, I have to say that I cannot wait to complete the 1st draft!
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  5. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

    I agree with T Allen Smith. My personal system is never to revise until I have a complete draft, because sometimes what is revealed once I complete the draft is that the middle needs to change as well. If I'd revised the beginning to match the middle, everything would have to change again! Once I have the entire thing laid out, I have a much clearer idea of how things should shift and change, and that makes revising easier.

    But! Make notes at this point as to how you think the beginning should change at this point, and keep them up to date as you progress. This is good for you for reference as you continue (for instance: if you've changed which character is responsible for an Event, you can make sure the references are right from now on) but also it will help you identify where there are glitches (for instance: right now you think that character X needs to die in the ambush in chapter 8, but when you get closer to the end, you might realise you desperately need character X to still be alive - with your notes, you'll be one step closer to ironing out how best to solve that problem).

    The other reason I advocate pushing ahead and finishing the draft is that nothing invigorates and energises like finishing a whole thing. It's an amazing feeling. Even if the thing is full of holes and an utter mess, it is a finished thing. Your sandpit is full of sand! Now you can build sandcastles with it.
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I echo the common wisdom. Push through, get your first draft done and then revise.

    There is a reason it is often called a "vommit draft". That is because it feels a whole lot better when you get it all out.
  7. Bearman1

    Bearman1 Scribe

    Ok, seeing a pattern here. I will push on and finish the 1st draft before doing anymore editing/revising of previous chapters.

    I am already keeping a note of all of the changes that I plan on making, that way I can easily go back at the end and spot where things will need to be altered. And I am sure that I will change more as I go on so all of your advice definitely makes sense.

    Thanks guys!
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I didn't push on, I skipped on. Like you, I knew my ending (it derives from a historical event, so certain things are fixed). My beginning was all over the place until I finally figured out where the story should start.

    I pushed forward roughly to where you are--around 60k or 70k. Then I simply wrote the ending. It felt good, and in writing it I found a couple of places where I could foreshadow, as well as working out a key character relationship change. Perhaps I ought to have waited, but IMO, if you feel ready to write a scene, you should just go ahead and write it. You're going to be rewriting everything anyway.

    Then I tried pushing forward again. Got further. Then skipped ahead to the big battle scenes that sit just prior to the ending. Got most of those written recently. And once again found that writing these gave me insight into what I needed to write in the Great Swampy Middle in order to get my characters to that point. It's really now more about character development than it is plot events. The latter are really settling into place; it's how my characters interact that is still, er, swampy.

    Which brings me to the big flaw I see in the Standard Advice. Write until the first draft is done. Fine. How do I know the first draft is done? I've written the end and the denounement. Am I done? Not hardly. All the chapters in between are in various stages of completion, from finely tuned to barely outlined, but I doubt I am going to add any. Am I done? A couple of the tertiary plot lines may get thrown out. Some chapters may need to be rewritten completely. Where in that mess do I declare victory and move on to Now I'm Editing?

    In the old days, with pen and paper, a draft made sense. You just kept writing until you were no longer generating new pages. That was the first draft. Then you wrote it all again until you had a second pile. Second draft. Und so weiter.

    But with modern writing tools, there is no more a first draft than a painter can say there is a first draft of his painting. The thing is in constant flux until it isn't. The song can always be remixed. Which is "the song"?

    My painting isn't done yet, but my canvas is almost completely covered in paint!
    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  9. ArenRax

    ArenRax Sage

    Ill say to you what I should have done. I am now on my third draft of my main story and I redid it every 25 pages before I finished the story and before I clearly thought everything out.
    So I beleive it would have been better to finish first and then go back redo and get people opinion if your having friends read it.
    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  10. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hi Bearman, the answer to your question lies in what you are comfortable doing with your story. Although right now it seems that you aren't sure which direction to take it or have a sure fire process in mind. I'll give you my process but ultimately, you have to decide what works for you.

    I typically plot strongly before I write the first word. In the past, I've written all the way to the end without direction, only to come out with crap that I don't like. I don't do that anymore. What I call a first draft is a test drive of my outline, with detailed story beats and many written scenes. This is just the way I seem to work best. For my WIP, I felt about halfway that it wasn't what I wanted, but continued writing, and ended up deleting a lot of material (all of the last half of the story, and some of the first half).

    This is what I'm doing to "fix it":
    -took a step back, went over the story goal and the goals of the characters involved. Discovered it was a lack of character development that was making things funky.

    -hit up some plotting books, currently going over "20 Master Plots and How to Develop Them", also "Rock Your Plot", just to get a feel for plot points again and maybe learn something new that could get me out of my stickiness.

    -mapped out the first half of the book again, had to see physically where I deviated at midpoint and ended up with a crap ending. I do this with a spreadsheet and notecards (writer OCD).

    -revisited the main theme of my story, simplified it, and cut out a second POV and a few extra things that I basically had in there to show off my world, but didn't serve purpose to the story.

    *Your job as the creator of a story is to keep everything focused on plot and character, period. Take out everything that isn't related to the main objective, no matter how cool of an idea it is or well-written the narrative is. These extras will only serve to take you off course, and that's how you end up stuck. Intuitively, you know something is off. I suggest taking a step back and reanalyzing your story/plot/character arcs AFTER you finish the draft. Why? Because only when you get to the end will you have a real sense of what feels right for the story. You won't know unless you get there.

    The best advice I can give you is to not get too attached to your first drafts. They aren't going to be perfect for the most part, and any writer who says that their first drafts are near perfection are...well...not the most of us. Use this draft as a test drive and a way to learn more about the story.

    I highly recommend checking out some plot resources. The books I mentioned are excellent, well as K.M. Weiland's "Plot Your Story Workbook", there's also James Scott Bell who I haven't read personally but I've heard plenty of great things about his craft books. There's websites, youtube videos (Brandon Sanderson has an amazing one from Write About Dragons, specific to our genre). Use these resources to your advantage. Learn more about story crafting but keep writing that draft.

    And while you are writing it, find your way back to the main objective of your story. Don't let those characters meander. YOU are in control. Best of luck and if you ever need more conversation on plotting, hit me up. I'm a plotting freak.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2015
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Most of what I was going to say has already been mentioned. I'll echo, from personal experience, push through, finish, keep notes.

    If you really have an itch. Expand the notes a bit using point form, but don't waste your time revising. Stuff is going to change, especially if you have an ah-ha moment/idea near the end. It can flip a lot of your story upside down.
  12. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    It depends on how you prefer to do your edits. I know the common convention will say to push through to the end then go back in a 2nd draft but it really depends on how you write.

    For me, if I don't edit along the way (at very least stopping to reread it every 25 - 50 pages) my writing gets really off track and I'm left with a bunch of trash that's probably best left for the waste basket. If you're that far in it's probably best not to completely rewrite it but if you know exactly how you would change it atm- (in file 2) outline beginning #2 and keep that as a viable option. Then push through to the end & when you come back for draft 2 you'll be able to decide if you want to go w beginning 1, 2, or something else entirely.

    Of course, we're all just giving personal opinions here. The writing process is intensely personal so what would be best for me might not be what's best for you.

    If it was me, I would have rewritten the beginning 2 or 3 times already
  13. AndrewMelvin

    AndrewMelvin Scribe

    My first thought on seeing the question was "Push on! Push on!" but then I read TheCatholicCrow's post and realized that my approach is actually the same as hers. I redid the start of my WIP three times because it just didn't feel right. However, I fixed it in the end and now I am probably about a third of the way in with greatly improved ideas and a clear plan for where I'm going. If I had stuck with the first version, I think I would have given up on the story by now.

    That said, it is essential to finish the first draft, even if you have to leave it for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. The satisfaction of finishing even a rough draft is worth all the effort it takes to get there.

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