Tag: characterization

Your first draft: getting out of your own way

Friday Morning, 32°F and foggy
Listening to ELP, Rondo Pt. 3 at The Lycium

I was hanging out on a writers forum when someone complained about struggling with how to begin their first novel. “I just can’t get it started. Nothing sounds right.”

The experienced writers were quick to weigh in with  “just write it,” “don’t worry if it’s crap,” and Hemmingway’s assertion: “all first drafts are shit.” This is 100% correct. But only helpful if you understand why you need to just write it, and what purpose that serves.

The reason we say “just write it” is that if you’re struggling with where to begin, what you really need is to get out of your own way. Quit worrying about whether you’re starting in exactly the right spot, what it sounds like, how it flows or (worst of all) what people are going to think when they read it. If you’re smart, nobody is going to read your first draft. You’re going to revise and polish a second draft before you let another set of eyes on it.

Many if not most authors throw away far more words than they ever publish. This is especially true with the words we write when we’re first starting out as novelists. The best thing I’ve ever done for my writing? Learn to be unflinching about throwing out anything that doesn’t serve the story. This is what people mean when they say “murder your darlings.” I have deleted whole chapters, scenes, descriptions, strings of great dialogue, and even solid characters that I’ve absolutely loved. Just because something is beautifully written, gut-wrenching, unforgettable or hilarious doesn’t mean it serves the story. Continue reading

Peeve of the day: the “late” opener

Monday morning, 20°F with snow flurries
Listening to Tame Impala, Skeleton Tiger

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. —W. Somerset Maugham

The story begins with the main character alone and late for work, school, or a date. She has overslept. Curse you, malfunctioning alarm clock/newfangled smartphone! She hurries to get dressed, and rushing about, she stubs her toe. Curse you, secondhand ottoman! She runs her pantyhose. Curse you, patriarchy! She spills her cereal. Curse you, Count Chocula!

While all this is going on, she’s fretting about how disappointed/angry/annoyed her boss/teacher/date is going to be. Or worse, ruminating about her backstory (because it’s just fascinating that she grew up an awkward and bookish only child in Poughkeepsie, but moved to the Big Apple after graduation to pursue her dream of blah blah blah, and if only her stupid boyfriend hadn’t blah blah blah, and back when she was in 10th grade in Mrs. Fitch’s honors English class she should have blah blah blah).

And then, oh, the humanity, her car refuses to start. Curse you, Detroit!  Continue reading

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