Friday, July 17, 2009

Beating a Draft Horse

There are many famous quotes regarding first drafts. Terry Pratchett, British author of the Discworld series, said a first draft is "just you telling yourself the story." In a characteristically less polite way, American author Earnest Hemingway famously said the following: "The first draft of anything is shit."

That's a classic example of British subtly and American directness, and I totally agree with both of them. But, the question is, how many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

According to New York Times bestselling author Eric Nylund, "about seven serious drafts and about five lesser revision cycles." That surprised me, because Eric writes novelizations of the HALO video game series. I assumed that since he already had an established world with established characters and conflicts that it would be easier to create a novel from that "base camp."

Apparently not.

I've reviewed the blogs of several authors and the consensus for drafts is anywhere from two to twenty. So, where does that leave me?
Somewhere between two and twenty.
Or, as Craig Furguson's novel about suicide suggest, somewhere "Between the Bridge and the River."

I've done three drafts, three plot outline revisions, and revised and edited the second and third drafts. And now, I've come to the sad realization that some of my main characters need an overhaul, and that my supporting cast of archetype characters are not relating the way they should according to elements of the Dramatica theory.

So here I am, reworking the story, characters, motivations, and relationships from the beginning- again. This will be followed by a fourth draft. When I'm done, the manuscript will be reviewed by several of my writer friends, who will undoubtedly give me feedback, which will take me through yet another revision. That revised manuscript will then make the rounds of the publishers who will also supply me with further revisions, or possibly, another draft.

All in all, I'll be lucky if I can do this in five drafts and as many revisions.

Anyway, the object of this post is to help me realize that I may only be at the halfway mark. That is good and bad. "Good" because I realize that I'm very much where I should be in this process. On the other hand, I also realize that I'm moving through that middle ground where so many novelist give up out of sheer frustration.

Don't worry. I'm not the type that gives up easily. In fact, I'm more the type who will persevere in the face of overwhelming odds. When others would sensibly pick themselves up from the ground, brush themselves off, and go home after flinging themselves over the edge of a cliff, I'm the one who will climb back up the hill for "another go at it."

So, I'll plod (or is that plot?) along because, like my protagonist, I realize that this is a journey, and the lessons are not learned by reaching the destination port.

Not at all.

The valuable lessons are learned by crossing the ocean.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Art of the Slack (Top 10 ways to delay writing a novel)

A friend of mine reminded me that I am overdue for a post.
She's right, and I appreciate the jab. (Thanks Linda!)
As you may know, this blog is a chronicle of my efforts to write a novel for publication, but since I haven't worked on the manuscript for a few months, I haven't posted.
What have I been doing? In my own defense, here is a top 10 list.

1. Making short films for Irony Coast Productions. This has taken the majority of my creative energy since May. We have done two short films, and one of them (Happy Father's Day) is being considered for awards at the Austin 48 Hour Film Festival. We'll know more next week. We might be in the running for "Best Picture" and it will be great to finally get the recognition for all of our hard work.

2. Music production. I have worked on several new songs, two of them for the films, and some others so that I have something fun and creative to do- besides write.

3. Learning to use my new Yamaha digital recorder and production equipment. Kinda goes with number two.

4. Ghost Busters, The Video Game. It was a lot of fun, and as a fan of the films I also appreciated the great writing and story line. Yes, even when I'm not writing, I can appreciate the craft from an "audience" point of view.

5. Summer. Okay, I know it's a lame excuse, but summer for a father of two is very busy. I have kids to convoy back and forth to neighbors and friends houses, pool days, taco runs, etc...

6. Weight Loss. It's hard to regard this as a way of slacking, but I have lost twenty pounds since February, and I've been exercising at least 3 times a week at the gym. I've lost several inches from my waist, and put on some much needed muscle. My ankle injury last year had me sidelined for a long time, and I'm very glad to be active again.

7. New Writing Projects. Aside from script writing for Irony Coast, I've also been writing a weekly skit for our church Wednesday night bible study. I have to act in them too, so that takes some rehearsal time as well. The Humble Fiction Cafe is also getting ready for it's second publishing project, a group of stories centered around a mysterious town called "Moot" and it's odd, sentinel-like lighthouse at the edge of town.

8. Teaching my son to drive. This is a dual edged sword. I can't wait for him to become more independent, (read: GET A JOB) but I'm also terrified that "something" might happen. However, since he won't have a full licence for at least 6 more months, I'm enjoying being shuttled around like a celebrity anytime I want to go somewhere.

9. Changing Jobs. I was relocated in April to a new facility. The new environment, people, processes, and equipment have totally eaten into my mental capacity for creating worlds on paper, but overall it has been a positive experience, and I'm no longer bored at work or worried about my employment.

10. Percolating Plot Ideas. No kidding. Sometimes you have to take your hands off the keyboard and let ideas, themes, and chapters float around in your mind. It may take a while for everything to eventually settle down into plausibility, but sometimes its the best thing to do, otherwise you end up with plots that go nowhere, or ideas that just fizzle out because they haven't been cushioned with a dose of "existence." Even if that means it exist in your own head, it still helps as you mentally edit, revise, or reject things that don't work for the overall story- all this while you're standing in line for coffee.

Okay, that's my list. I do intend to get back to work, but since I have been so busy, I have pushed my draft deadline back to October. The ideas are sill percolating, and I have different feelings about the opening chapter of Good Hope. That issue has me mired for the moment, but I'm sure that while I'm working on a film, recording music, or gripping the hand rest as Justin stalls the Honda in a busy intersection, the right idea will pop into my head and I'll be anxious to get back to the keyboard.

Just as soon as I get out of the body cast.