Thoughts for Finishing Your First Draft

It’s not hard to lose sight of the bigger picture when writing your first draft. Sure, your outline or beat sheet might have every little nuance figured out ahead of time, but even the most experienced writers will tell you that the actual process of fleshing out scenes, putting words in characters’ mouths, and moving the plot/action forward can take far more than planned. Sometimes getting characters to behave a certain way or say a certain something seemed great in the planning phase and now… While actually crafting the scene… Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

When you find yourself stuck, the best thing we can do is take a step back once we’ve gotten that first act out of our heads and onto the page. Then, consider the following ‘navigation tricks’ for moving through the rest of your first draft, building on what’s been accomplished so far:

  1. RAISING QUESTIONS.  You’re creating a world, breathing life into characters, and just as importantly, trying to figure out what needs to be conveyed in those first pages versus what can wait. The first act is absolutely about establishing conflict. One of the key ways to do that is to consider what sort of questions you want the reader/audience to have as the move through the first act (and how will using the rest of the story pay them off). As you get ready to draft the remainder of your manuscript/screenplay, consider what questions you’ve asked so far, how you can answer them in surprising/rewarding ways in the remaining pages, and perhaps what questions are missing that will need your attention on rewrite (because after all, writing IS rewriting).
  2. TURNING TROPES UPSIDE DOWN. Your outline or treatment may have laid out a wonderfully unexpected resolution to the story. One that defies expectations and widens the overall story’s meaning. However! While the ending might absolutely turn an expected trope (or dare I say ‘cliche’) upside down, you’ll need to make something of a promise to your reader/audience early enough in the first act even while staying in line with expected tropes for the genre. Otherwise, you won’t attract the wider audience (and readership) who will appreciate your story magic. So! Consider ways that you can make more of a promise that the story’s end is unexpected without giving that away. Challenging, yes. No question. But the best story endings derive from both the unexpected AND the inevitable.
  3. CONTINUE TO WORK ON CREATING PERSUASIVE LANGUAGE ON THE PAGE. At the end of the day, it’s about making the script as enjoyable to read as possible. You want the reader to keep turning the pages. Yes, of course character and plot matter, but usually a manuscript (screenplay, novel, short story, etc.) gets read before it gets bought. Your language needs to be as persuasive as possible. Of course, a lot of that can be attended to in the rewrite, however to truly succeed in polishing your prose, I urge you to read as much as possible and not just the obvious. If you’re writing a screenplay, read a novel. If you’re writing a novel, consider reading a screenplay. Read a short story. An essay. Even poetry can inspire your language. If you want to write, you need to read. Constantly.
You’ve got a great story to tell and it is absolutely okay for the first draft to be a mess. With a little thought and regrouping once you’re well underway, your work-in-progress can have the cohesion you need to make your rewrite soar. Another step that absolutely helps is workshopping your pages. If you’re working on a screenplay or thinking about starting one, consider joining our April workshop. Got questions? Contact me

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