Zeroth Draft

I’ve written a zeroth draft.

I conceived the idea as a very long outline– 50,000 words written in November, intended to convey a story estimated to be 150,000 words. It wasn’t something I’d done before. I do outline, but more broadly, and often the outline becomes very vague at the end.

I write sequentially, you see. Each scene, in the order that I expect they’ll appear in the book. I find that the emotion and details of each scene influences how the next scene works out, and I’m uncomfortable writing a scene without fully understanding what has come before.  Too often I’ve had tiny details, especially those of Place or Character change what I expected to occur next. And by the time I’ve reached the end, the lack of the details discovered in the writing practically forces me to be vague.

This time, though, I was going to be explicit. I divided the story up into a number of parts and chapters and scenes. Each part got a single line describing the expected contents, and then as I approached the part, I would fill in single lines for the chapters and scenes, and then write around 300 words per scene. Mostly, I wrote dialog and emotional movement. I am not very good at description, so I gave myself leave to insert that in another draft. The other 2/3rd of the words have to come from somewhere, after all.

I also gave myself leave to suck. Some of the scenes I do not expect to keep. Some secondary character arcs are trash. It was very hard, sometimes, to write on knowing that. Normally, I think about my words and narrative a lot before committing words to paper, in a bad form of perfectionism. But I think it helped a lot to have a set number of words for a scene’s outline. I could, I told myself, fix it later. I had to come back and rewrite it anyhow. It was just an outline.

And the ending was still a challenge, although not for the reason I usually find it hard in outlines. This time, I had the emotional and character details, mostly. What I didn’t have was personal sense of climax that helps me propel my characters through the heights and depths of  the final act of the story. I admit it; I especially skimped on the wrap-up scenes after it was over.  I think I got what was important down, though.

I think my next step is going to be creating sets and describing them thoroughly. I’m as wretched at infusing my narratives with clear imagery as I am at not obsessing over every sentence before I write it, so this will also be a challenge.

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