Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are you a putter-inner or a taker-outer?

Not the most technical of terms, I know. As my first draft starts to move more swiftly and I work out just what I need to write in order to get there, I've been thinking about the different ways people write their first drafts. Some just write and write and end up with many more thousands of words than they need; their second draft, as well as reshaping and rethinking, is a process of trimming and cutting to find the essence and minimise the waffle. Others, and this is the way I seem to work, use the first draft to sketch scenes quickly and end up going back and filling them out and adding more scenes to expand the novel.

For example, in the second draft of The Sound of Butterflies, I remember going over each scene and slowing it right down. Closing my eyes and imagining myself into the head of whoever had the point of view. What were they thinking about? How were they feeling about what they were thinking about? Where were they physically in the space they inhabited? What could they see from their vantage-point? What did the air feel like on their skin?

Of course I don't necessarily put all these details into the scene when I'm re-writing it, but it helps me find what is important to the story and to the characters' states of mind. It fully immerses me in the character's point of view and enables me to write a more authentic scene. The result is often a more sensual experience for the reader I think, and helps create empathy for the characters.

The first half of my first draft tends to move quite slowly as I explore the characters and their voices (and doing research, but that's another post topic altogether), getting to know them to the point that I can race with more confidence through the second half to get the story down, knowing that I'll be coming back to flesh things out at the end when I know more about where things will end up.

The second draft isn't just about expanding scenes. It's also about a structural overhaul, looking at the pacing, adding a scene here and there to develop a theme or an aspect of the story that seems rushed or contrived or just wrong somehow. At this rate my first draft will probably only be about 60,000 long, but ultimately I know that the book will need to be about 75,000 to tell the full story that I need to tell.

How do you work? I'd be curious to hear from a taker-outer.


Laini Taylor said...

Hi Rachael! So far, the only thing I've found for me is to work on each scene as if it's a final draft, even being insanely persnickity about language, before I move on to the next scene. That doesn't mean I don't revise, but generally I've already gone over a scene many times before moving on to the next, so I neither have to really flesh it out or pare it down in successive passes. I might have to ax it altogether though, or start over entirely :-( One never knows. I've tried taking a speedier and more efficient approach to first drafts and found I wasn't able to fall in love with the book if I didn't take inordinate care with each and every scene. It's slow-going.

Paul said...

I consciously pre-edit things in my mind; things that I know I would cut anyway. Even though it is better to write everything out and select the best stuff, I prefer not to sort through such a mess.Call it perfectionism or OCD. I think we all subconsciously filter anyway, even in the best and expansive of freewrites.

Anonymous said...

I am taker outer mostly with minor putter inner. I write the marble and edit until I get the Venus di Milo

Rachael King said...

Laini - I think I'm like you at the beginning of the draft, but the closer I get to the end the faster I move through it.

Paul - thanks for commenting - always good to hear how people work.

GG - ha! Nice analogy. Mine in that case is like paper mache - I build the wire frame and then I go back and slather on the paper and paste. Funnily enough, TSOB was unusually verbose for me. My writing ahs always been much more spare. But in the end the characters dictated the language. My new one is a bit less lush in its descriptions.

Damon Young said...

G'day Rachael,

Yes, good question.

My approach is fairly primitive. I write, write, write and write - like throwing seeds everywhere in a garden bed. Then I hack, prune, graft and replant.

Then I start again...

Having said this, it's a much quicker process with journalism than with a book. I might only have two drafts with a newspaper/magazine piece, whereas a book can have six, seven drafts.

Anonymous said...

Can I be both?!

I tend to treat that first draft as the bare skeleton whilst I concentrate on putting down the plot and developing the characters. The second draft is where I refine the language, develop my characters and most importantly make sure the plot is water-tight and that always increases the word count. Having said that, I am also approaching the end of a first draft and I know there is at least one story arc that will be completely removed. So my word count is going to fluctuate with each draft.

I hope you don't mind a newbie posting on your blog, Rachael, but I loved The Sound of Butterflies and I believe we are also represented by the same agent!

Good luck with your next novel.

Anonymous said...

I'm another putter-inner. My 2nd draft process is very similar to what you described. And I'm glad to hear another describe that approach. Lately I'm surrounded by taker-outers.

Marianne said...

I'm such a newbie at writing that I'm sure I'll be a bit of both, although I think I tend towards writing the marble (perhaps more like sandstone in my case).

Law and Order said...

Hi Rachael, In my first draft I was trying to create and edit at the same time. Bad combination I discovered. Everything was too choppy and nothing flowed smoothly. Perfectionism has something to do with it, I'm sure. Anyway, I overcame this by telling myself to just write, get the ideas down and edit later. Trust the process. It was hard to do that but I managed. My 2nd draft is mainly editing, re-writing, keeping pov, etc etc. It's looking good. Did I answer your question?

TK Roxborogh said...

Hi Rachel
I think I'm like you. I am now going through the novel for the third time: colouring in but also reworking clunkers. Because I wrote this book so fast (85,000 in eight weeks), there are continuinty issues (see my post on my blog:
I have to keep careful track of characters, times, dates etc.

I love Anne Lamont's idea of shitty first draft - that's what I did - just got the story out there. I'm lucky that I've got 8 of my students reading the novel in parts and meeting with me to discuss good bits and bad bits.

Also, because of the tight time frame (signed contract on 1st of Dec and it's due 20th March for a Sept release), I've been sending chunks to my publisher for her comments.

After this draft, I expect it to be about 10,000 more than its current 95,000.

BTW, as an aside, I'm in Wellytown this Waitangi Weekend (staying with Fleur B). Love to meet for coffee. Cheers

Vanda Symon said...

I'm definitely a putter-inner!

Rachael King said...

So interesting to hear how everyone works. I think for the sake of my post I was coming at it a bit black-and-white. I think I mix my methods up quite a bit.

Tania - wow, I'm so impressed with your 8 week word count! Is this a YA novel or an adult? I would love to meet you some time but I am actually living in Christchurch at the moment. Maybe look me up if you pop up this way (from Dunedin I believe?). I hope to get to Dunedin at some point this year, so maybe I can meet up with you and Vanda.

Vanda Symon said...

I'm keen Rachael! Tania & I are always keen for coffee, or food & wine.

And as for that Roxborogh woman - she's been working her butt off and putting the rest of us to shame.

As an aside, I think I might stick a picometer on the blog for the next novel - let a bit of public pressure help the word count.

Anonymous said...

I'm in chch for the Margaret Mahy day ( 27th to 29th of March). The day is just the sat morn so maybe we could catch up then.

As to the word count - I can't believe it myself but I do understand Lizzie Knox wrote 30,000 words of one of her dream quake books in 10 days!
In answer to your question, it is YA but along the lines of a youth Philippa Gregory. (parrently to rival meyer's twighlight series)

Rachael King said...

Great Tania- drop me a line at rachking at ihugdotcodotnz

Vanda - I will start thinking about when we might come for a visit. Maybe before it gets too cold! A shame another writer friend, Ms Chidgey isn't there at the moment!

The Paradoxical Cat said...

If you're coming to Dunedin Rachael, I'd love to see you too!

Pamela x

PS I'm a taker-outer, but I don't write novels - just poetry and non-fiction, and emails! I'm a believer in a raw first draft that you hack away at later.

Anonymous said...

I'm a putter-inner. (I think of the two kinds of writer as adders and cutters). First drafts are much more likely to be too bony than too flabby, but that's okay, because it's the big bones I want to get right in the first place. You can do any amount of revising for plot and character and prose and ideas, but if you only realise the structure's wrong at the end of the second draft, say, it can be like turning round an oil tanker to get it right. That's why I set myself up to write the first draft as fast as possible, and then do the typing-up as fast as possible too: you're more aware of the big structural bones.