The Unmentionable First Draft

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I think I’ve mentioned before how I typically do my rough and first drafts in my head before I ever put anything on paper. This makes my first paper drafts much smoother than the ones of many writers I’ve spoken with. Well, for the first time in my life, the mental draft isn’t working. This story is one I’ve had bouncing around for years. I even have a few drafts from before I got my MFA. The problem I’m faced with is breaking away from the events of that early draft and discovering what the story needs to be.

I have finally given myself permission to write a throw-away first draft (also called something less polite ;-) ). I’ve never done this before! I’ve never written out of chronological order. I’ve never written scenes that will probably be thrown away. I’ve never written just to explore the story, but that’s what I’m doing now. I have to say, it’s a lot more enjoyable than I expected and, instead of being terrified, I’m actually looking forward to the revision process. Yay!!

What to Do Differently

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I may have figured out part of the problem. I need to write the story, not the book. Does that make sense? The book is the finished product that will be published. I don’t need to worry about that yet. I can think about marketability and what editors and agents want during the final revisions. For now, I need to focus on the story. Once I got that pounded into my head, things started going smoother.

Stuck pulling teeth

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I am stuck. In three places at once. Part II is where I’ve been doing most of my writing. I’m at an entire sequence of battle scenes, and I hate writing battles scenes. I have written one good battle scene in my life, and when I went back to look at it, I thought, “I wrote this?” There was some divine inspiration on that one. I have been arranging and rearranging the order of battles. I’m about to give up. Sigh.

To give myself a break, I started rough drafting Part III. :::bangs head on table::: WHY IS THIS SO HARD?? I think I’ve decided on using a third POV character. I had to figure out his motivation as well as the motivation for my MC. That helped. The plot at least is moving along, but the writing is horrendous. I’m afraid of what revising will be like.

And then, in Part I, which I was pretty well done with, I finally have some chapter-by-chapter specific feedback from people who don’t know the story at all. Now I am heavily debating revisions of Chapters 3-5 and what that would look like, whether it’s necessary, etc.

Writing used to be easy. I mean, it was hard work, but it flowed. For the past three years, writing has been like pulling teeth. I’m not sure what I need to do differently . . .


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Why are beginnings so hard? I’m working on Part 2, which is it’s own book. Once again, the beginning is a convoluted mess. I would like to just cut it out and move thirty-five pages in, after a natural break in the story. But if I do that, I’ll be skipping over a lot of emotional development of my character. His choices wouldn’t make sense without it. I would also skip a very important near-fatal accident that is referenced multiple times later on. Oh, and the reader would miss my MC’s learning to play an instrument, which is pivotal to Book 2. Hrm.

Sounds pretty important, right? Then why does it seem so unimportant when I read through it? What do I skip? What do I include? And how do I reintroduce everyone just enough to jog a reader’s memory without annoying the readers who don’t need their memories jogged. Why was Book 2 so easy to write when every part of Book 1 is so hard?!

Don’t Start Your Book This Way . . . Unless You Are Wildly Successful

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I just read an interview of several agents. All of them said they didn’t want to see any more beginnings with characters waking up or looking in the mirror. Oh dear, I thought, my book starts with my character in the morning, already awake and he doesn’t look in the mirror, but still. Maybe I should change it. Again. So I looked at some other books to see how they begin and what do I find?

The Hunger Games begins with the MC waking up.

Divergent begins with the MC looking in the mirror.

I don’t know if those were the openings sent to agents or publishers, but obviously there are some exceptions to the rule. :-)

Query Tips

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While we’re on the subject of queries, here a few tips based on what I gleaned over the various writing and agent blogs and resources.

250 words or less for the entire query
Agents have differing opinions on personalization, so go with what that agent requests or if they don’t say, go with your gut
Don’t include too many characters
Say what the main character wants, what the obstacles are, and what the stakes are if she fails
Match the tone of your story unless it would be gimicky
Don’t be gimicky
Don’t use first person
Use only one POV (didn’t find this out until draft 49. :-\ ). Mention others, but don’t synopsize them
Don’t sound too much like a movie trailer
Don’t reveal the ending (you want to entice the agent to read on)
Be professional but let enough of your personality through that you don’t sound like a robot or an answering machine (that’s the part I have trouble with)
Best sum up of advice: you are synopsizing the first 20-50 pages only

Research the agent, address the letter specifically to that agent, and follow the agent’s guidelines.
Include genre and word count (rounded to the nearest 1,000—I finally found that somewhere).
Include comp titles so the agent has an idea what he or she is reading. I had trouble with this until I figured out you don’t have to include something similar to your work. You can, but if, like me, you can’t find anything, include what you think your readers would also like. Sadly, these comp titles are supposed to be recent. Hopefully three years but five years at most. That ruled out Lord of the Rings and Sabriel for me. I finally went with fans of The Avengers movies. That was something else I learned. Comp titles can be TV shows or movies.

A lot of this is probably subjective by agent. Thankfully, agents know that queries are harder to write than books and that we often are terrible at it. So do your best, but if agonizing over it keeps you from sending, just send it! (that was the best advice I found)


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I don’t know why we call it rejection. That’s so harsh. I got a (very polite) form letter, but I believe what it said: that agent just wasn’t a good fit for my story. She had written last October that she might not take on any new sci-fi as the sci-fi market is saturated with dystopian right now. My story is more fantasy than sci-fi, but it does have sci-fi elements. I just really liked that agent and thought I would give it a try. I know my writing is good and that I have a compelling story to tell. Not to say I won’t do any more revisions–I know agent and editor revisions are part of publishing. But I also know the story is ready to shop around.

So, one agent down, ninety-nine to go.

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