Friday, July 3, 2015

Weeding through the Mass and the Mess: Making Sense of Your First Draft

A reader from New York has been working hard on her first draft of a novel for over a year.  First drafts aren't easy.  Initially they require sitting down and writing a lot.  Not necessarily from chapter 1 to The End, but a lot of scenes need to accumulate.  This is the benefit of writing classes, writing marathons, and writing practice.  This is why Nanowrimo (National Novel Writer's Month) is so popular.  You can accumulate pages toward this first draft.


 
But what happens next?  After all the pages are written, you don't really have a book yet. 

To take the mass of mess to first draft, you have to find a pathway through it.  Something a reader can make sense of. This is where the writer from New York was stuck.  

"I'm on the edge," she told me.  "There is almost a ream of paper with different chapters.  There are different beginnings.  There are different endings.  How do I weed through all this?"
 
How to Create a Map of Your Book
In my online classes, we're learning to create maps of our books.  We divide our weekly time between writing (accumulating those pages) and assessing where the pages might fit within a first draft.  To help this map-making process, I created a video of a map-making tool called storyboarding. 

Storyboarding is the easiest way I know chart a map through the mess.

But!  I have also learned from my classes, some writers don't like maps.  When I was younger and newer to book writing, I didn't either.  I didn't use maps for my travel--too rigid, too predictable!  Why would I need them for my writing? 

Wasn't it better just to let it flow? 
 
Pause for backstory:  Exploring Europe one summer, nineteen years old, just me and companions met along the way.  Plus a train schedule and my Eurail pass, a little bit of money, and my love of adventure.  (Lucky I didn't know I was ignorantly hitchhiking in Greece during the anti-American protests.  Lucky that a German woman helped me out when I was trying to pass through East Germany without having the right stamp on my passport.)  Way too innocent to see the danger I was narrowly avoiding, because my ideal was travel from a casual, unplanned perspective.  
 
More recent backstory:  A trip France a few summers ago, older now, finding equally amazing adventure in planning where to visit.  Using good maps on my phone to find the best routes.  Result:  I had just as much--probably more--fun.
 
My early books were mapless too.  But when I began publishing back in the 1980s, my publisher assigned me an in-house editor.  He had a map, a good one.  Without it, my book would never have been published. 
 
No maps are fine when it's just you reading.

Storyboard Retreats
In two weeks, I'll be teaching a Storyboard Retreat on Madeline Island in the wilds of Lake Superior.  A location to dive into your book.  We will explore different uses of the W storyboard as an initial map to brainstorm or make sense of that messy draft.  We'll study the five pivot points of any story, one each at the beginning and end, three placed at optimal points to keep the book's energy alive.

Once you discover these five points, you can build your book's map.  This week's exercise takes you through the steps.
 
Weeding your way to a good first draft takes time.  Set aside a storyboard retreat weekend, if you can.  You may come away with a map that will serve you well the rest of your book journey.    
 
Your Weekly Writing Exercise:  Map-Making
1.  Watch my video on storyboarding. 

2.  Get a posterboard or large sheet of paper.  Draw a big W on it. 

3.  Brainstorm 5-10 key dramatic points in your story so far.  What has a real dramatic effect, with something happening outwardly?  What have you written about? What might you include? 


4.  Read through these and see if you can choose the 5 most dramatic moments.  Place them on the 5 points of the W in logical order.  Review the video for the triggering event and ending event's requirements. 

5.  To see if you've chosen well, ask yourself if they follow the rising and falling action of their position on the W.  (See the video for more information on this.)  Begin to flow the other scenes you've written.  


6.  Place them between the 5 points on the W, using Post-It notes.

PS  Excited about a Storyboard Retreat?  Join me July 27-31 on Madeline Island for coaching, classes, and plenty of writing time.  See more details here.