Getting Through the First Draft

I have a love hate relationship with first drafts. Starting out they always feel incredibly exciting. I have all these new characters to play with and this great big world to discover. I burn through the first ten or so chapters without much trouble. I know where my story’s going, all those twisty little hints I want to drop, and how to get my characters into all kinds of trouble.

The problem is getting them out of trouble.

Because at some point in every draft my brain does this little flip. It says “Okay, crap. We need to get from here to the ending. Here, this looks like a nice, straight, logical path.”

Never mind said path involves characters making illogical decisions so they can be properly positioned for the final showdown. Never mind that every one of them suddenly becomes a cardboard cutout in service of the plot. Never mind that my villains start making stupid mistakes for the sake of convenience.

You can see the problem.

In the past I’ve dealt with this by rewriting the entire second half two, three, twenty times until I find an ending that works.

I’m really not a fan of this process. So this year for NaNoWriMo I tried something new. When my draft sunk deep into the bogs of plot-panic, I didn’t trudge forward in search of the other side. I stopped. I went back to my outline. I thought about what my characters were trying to accomplish at each point. I wrote a new outline. I hammered out a few new scenes I knew I would want to include.

And then I watched NaNo’s final day sail past while my word count languished well behind the 50k finish line.

Despite failing the word count challenge, I felt better about my draft. Instead of writing new words I went back and made the changes I knew my new outline would need. I reacquainted myself with all the reasons why I’d fallen in love with my characters. And when I did get back to that dreaded second half I was able to give them more freedom to make their mistakes and find a way to the ending on their own terms.