Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conquering the Dragon

The words that strike terror into many writers' hearts are "Have you finished that first draft yet?". Each of us have spent hours, days, months or years (yipes!) slowly vanquishing the beast and everyone seems to have their own line of attack.

Here's what has worked for me.

1. A detailed outline containing the order of events from the beginning to the end.

2. Written biographies of each of the major characters. My purpose here is two-fold - writing the biographies help me understand their motives and this knowledge will in all likelihood change the running order (see #1).

3. Research into special knowledge. I write historical mysteries so research is always involved. The challenge for me (being a history-lover) is to keep the research as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

4. Start at the beginning, go to the end and then stop. (with apologies to Lewis Carroll).

The last is the best advice that I was ever given. I have a tendency to polish and then re-polish before moving forward and this stops (or at least lessens) that tendency. It gives me a first draft. First drafts won't be perfect - that's why they're called 'first'.

What works for you? How do you defeat the monster?


  1. Good advice. I tend to sort of skip defining my characters and that hurts the process. I know how it opens, how it ends, and I want to tear into it and get started. I also tend to edit as I go - not good.


  2. Great Picture, Elspeth, as you know, I have a dragon theme today, too. Great minds…

    Interested in your sequence. This implies that you know many story details before you begin to write, is this true? If so, how do you know them? I don’t know mine until the characters say or do something that leads to the next action. I could no more just line up the action end to end than I could lose twenty pounds. How do you do this??? Maybe that’s a blog post rather than an answer. Thanks very much.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  3. How do I defeat the monster? Curl up in a fetal position and ask it kindly to go away...

    Seriously, though... with the current manuscript, my writing partner and I talk a lot about it, especially when we're not getting the physical writing done, due to writers block or busy schedule. She made a fabulous outline for us, which has been, well, dare I say, fabulous, twice in the span of ten words.

    I love the idea of keeping a notebook full of backstories and bios. I keep saying I'm going to do it, but I always seem to talk them out instead.

    Excellent post, Beth! Great advice.

  4. Elspeth, I was stuck at the first 30,000 words for a while. I kept changing the story, fixing the timeline, taking characters out, etc. I think I now have it under control and can just write the rest of the story. KNOCK ON WOOD!

    So I shall set an impossible goal for myself. Must have a solid draft finished and printed out by October 4th. Let's see, 90,000 words less 30,000 already finished equals 60,000 words in 32 days equals an average of 1,250 words a day. Piece of cake, right? Sigh.

  5. I do so wish I could write an outline. I've tried, really I have. And many times. I just can't seem to do it. The only thing that works for me is to slug it out on paper. If you can outline, then I'm green with envy and may have to spread a nasty rumor to make myself feel better. :0)

    #2 is a good idea, although I have this insane idea that any time not spent writing on the manuscript is wasted time. That's nuts, of course, but it's always in the back of my mind. I need to get over that.

    #4: Now I just need to figure out how to get to the end! And if only everyone would stop at the end...

  6. Research distracts me TOTALLY. I go off on tangents, I roam around on the internet.

    I've found that for the first draft, I put in asterisks whenever I need to return and research. That way I do all my research at one time (and as a reward for good behavior...finishing my draft.)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  7. Elizabeth, I do exactly the same thing! It really does work!



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