Friday, October 21, 2011

First drafts, in transition

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I've been thinking a bit about my writing process.

I don't plot. In fact, I don't think at all when I'm writing. My mind just blanks out and sometimes words come out, sometimes they don't.

(yes, yes, I know I've basically set myself up for a whole slew of blonde jokes*)

It's a little like automatic writing or drawing exercises. Or, if you're never done those, then it's like doodling while you're talking on the phone. Your hand is moving, but there's little or no intention behind what's coming out on the page.

That's not to say I never think about what I'm writing, I just don't think while writing new words.

So, new words come out. When I stop writing for the day, it's usually when my brain clicks back on and I go, 'I wonder what happens next?' At that point, I re-read what I've just written and correct any small mistakes I've made like grammar, duplicate words, repeated words within the same paragraph, etc. Then I close the file. Usually I stop mid-scene.

Since I always end with that, 'I wonder what happens next...' feeling, I think about it. The story, the characters. I don't plan, I don't plot. I don't even really concentrate on it, or try to guess what might happen next. The awareness of the story existing just sits in the back of my brain and...

...I just wonder.

The next time I start writing, I go back and re-read the previous work. And things I didn't understand before suddenly make sense. I make bigger changes. Re-write/re-order sentences and paragraphs. Add and take away. See where I've left something important only half-explained/explored and fill it in (if I can). Like darkening the good lines of a rough sketch.

Then I keep writing. Because I normally end mid-scene, it feels easier to merge back into the flow of the characters and their story. If I stop writing at the end of a scene, often it will be days or weeks before I continue.

Here's an example of how/where/when I darken those good lines. Original can be found here. You'll notice there isn't a huge difference. The scene doesn't play out differently, but there are some significant wording changes. Like, I removed any mention of the word 'friends' when talking about the group the MC hangs out with. How the MC looks at Triss for the first time has been noted (like a mark, nothing more, nothing less -> observant, but unemotional) and I hinted how Triss probably was looking at the MC (she waited UNTIL the guys disappeared -> so, she also sees the MC as a mark). I think this change in particular is really important considering the current nature of their relationship.

I deliberately took out the stolen perfume reference, as that's more suggestive of a female MC and I'm still not sure of the MC's gender. I also repeated the phrase 'quick and purposeful' from an earlier description of Triss to reinforce the impression the MC has of her. Some other small issues of clarity have also been cleaned up, but I still consider this first-draft material. Nothing here is polished. There are still some jerky moments in the flow of words.

I wouldn't yet hand this over to my writing group, but it's closer to that stage.

Pawn shops and car sound systems are how Triss and I actually met. I was thirteen and ran with a crowd whose idea of a good time was lifting stuff from the local Walmart, jacking cds and stereo parts from parked cars and selling it all for cash. They were older than me, but we hung out together ‘cause each had what the other wanted. I had small hands that could squeeze into tight places and a face innocent enough to fool cashiers and security guards. They had smokes, booze and drivers licenses.

When you fence stuff, you gotta know what has serial numbers on it, ‘cause it changes when you sell it and how. No numbers means anyone with a legit photo ID with the right age on it can sell anywhere. Serial numbers mean ya gotta get rid of it fast at a store you don’t usually go to, and ya gotta lift a new ID, ‘cause they make a copy of that anytime you make a sale. Not that I was ever the one to actually stand at the counter and make a deal. I was too young, and I looked it. My innocent face may have been great for disarming a suspicious store employee, but no matter how closely matched the picture on a stolen ID was, there was no way I looked old enough to be believable.
That was the reason I was squatting outside a shop when Tris walked up with a ziplock baggie full of her mom’s jewelry.
She must have been watching when I handed over the pair of twelve-inch sub woofers I had stuffed under my shirt, but she didn’t come over until the guys went inside to get rid of our latest score.
In a worn leather jacket, ripped jeans and expensive sneakers, Triss waited a few feet away, close enough to keep under the overhang, ‘cause the rain was cold and cutting, but far enough enough away to not actually touch the grimy, cement wall. I wondered how much we could sell those sneakers and jacket for.
When the guys came out, I stood to go, but she stepped in front of me. Like it was totally normal, she grabbed the back of my head, leaned in, and stuck her tongue down my throat. Quick and purposeful.
She pulled away and said to them, “so, I’ve been having trouble selling something and my friend here says you’ll help me out.”
And I was too dumbstruck to breathe.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d touched another person, and never in that way. The guys and I talked in looks, shrugs and nods. We slapped shoulders and accidentally brushed fingers while passing a butt or bottle around. Likeminded people who had somehow gathered together, but we were not friends. 
When she gripped my hair and pressed her body against mine, it was like my muscles shuddered and screamed. The intimacy was unnatural, terrifying and fiercely addictive.

Triss had me and she knew it.

From the driver’s seat, she gives me a funny look. “Well?”

And I scramble to put the music on.

*Yes, I'm actually blonde, but despite that, I love blonde jokes :)


  1. You know I love this anyway, but I can see the improvements you've made. Not so much with th writing but in the way we think about the characters.

  2. Somehow I missed the oct 13 entry I assume you’re not up to typos etc as you’re just getting it down. And I won’t burden you with my feelings on the gender of the MC. It’s going well is all I can say now.

    Will you be using this next month for the writing project?

    Instead of dumbstruck how about the word gobsmacked ?and this tells me triss comes from money

  3. @ Sarah

    I don't plot, but I always know the characters really well and it's their reactions that drive the plot forward, so when the characters are solid in my brain, then the plot can move forward. So, this feeling out/solidifying the characters in my own brain is a really important step.

    @ Sue can say whatever you darn well please ;) Comments (constructive/thoughtful ones) are NEVER a burden, so un-load away!

    I haven't decided if I'll be working on this story or 'Left & Right' (with Alexander). Most likely, I'll be switching back and forth between the two.

    Yup. Triss comes from money. Not sure why she's selling her mom's jewelry, yet... but I know her parents are divorced or separated. No idea about the MC's background yet...

  4. I am much the same when it comes to writing. I do a teeny bit of plotting just so I get a basic feel for where the story is going, but most of it is just driven by where the story leads itself.

    Also, I have something for you at my blog. :)

  5. Thanks for the mention, Jess!!

    NaNo is interesting when you're a pantser, eh?


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)