Tricks to Overcome Stuckness Part 4

This is what happens after NaNoWriMo when you turn your first draft into a second draft.
Your third chapter becomes the first chapter. Your second chapter is mostly deleted and a few remnant paragraphs are incorporated into the new third chapter. The POV character of your fourth chapter vanishes from the book entirely and and the seventh chapter becomes the fifth.
In short, your book will be butchered, mutilated and pieced back together.
So don’t get too attached to the stuff you are writing now. Your first draft does not need to be polished to a mirror finish.
Which brings us to…

The Compartmentalization Trick:

Stuck? Then recite with me the NaNoWriMo Prayer:
Lord grant me:
The morale to type out the first draft,
The strength to postpone the tweaking for the second,
And wisdom always to know the difference.

Sometimes, when you are stuck, you are stuck on the tweaking that should be left to the second and third drafts, and not the rough word pounding you should be doing in the first.
It is futile to get the writing just right in the first draft. You might be deleting chapters, subplots and characters wholesale in the second draft. The more you invest in tweaking your first draft, the more difficult it will be to kill your darlings in the editing process. No sense sandpapering and varnishing before the wood goes through the band saw. Leave the finishing process for the finish.
Here are some signs that you might be stuck on the tweaking and not the first drafting.
1. You are trying to get the dialog just right.
2. You are trying to fill in the motives of your characters. (We do not need too many motives per character in the first draft. Just one over riding one.)
3. You are stuck on a subplot.
4. You are stuck on “show, don’t tell.” (You can tell in the first draft. Tweak it to show in the second draft.)
5. You are stuck on backstory. (At least half the backstory should be deleted in the editing process anyway.)
6. You are stuck because you don’t know why she loves him. (Skip it.)
7. You are stuck because the emotions don’t feel real.
8. You are stuck because you fear your story might not be politically correct. (Fix it later, only if you have to.)
9. You cannot find the right words.
10. You are stuck because you are not sure what your characters are doing is physically possible. (That never stopped readers from trying it at home.)
11. Is it possible at all to skip the problem you are stuck on right now and get on with writing the next page of the story? If it is, your problem is a second draft problem.
A lot of writers, who say they are stuck, are stuck on items they would edit out in the second draft anyway. Don’t get so invested in your first draft. You will only find it more difficult to kill your darlings when you try to gold plate the first draft. Compartmentalize your writing process.
When you are stuck, ask yourself: “Is this a first draft problem?”
If it isn’t, leave the problem as it is and write the next part of the story.


The Lego Movie Factor:

Up to now, most of my anti-stuck tips have been focused on seat-of-the-pants writers, not plotters.
But one Nanoer, apparently a plotter, now has a problem. She has written her story according to the outline from beginning to end, but only the bare bones. In her own words, she needs to “fill in the places that say stuff like ‘I’ll think of this later’ and generally add more details to make it something that people might actually want to read”.

The first rule of Nano is, you don’t get stuck on second draft issues. The objective is to finish the first draft as quickly as possible regardless of the quality. So you must not obsess over “polishing” your work, because your work will be torn apart and pieced back together in the editing process anyway.

But what about the stuff you DO need to flesh out in the first draft? How do you turn a bare bones outline into a first draft?
This is where you take a peek at the old cheat sheet.

1. What does your protagonist want?
2. Why does he want it?
3. What happens if he fails?
4. What is his inner obstacle?
5. What/who is his outer obstacle?
6. What does the villain want?
7. Why does he want it?
8. What happens if he fails? (What’s going to happen to the villain if he *doesn’t* destroy the world?)
9. Where is the location of the climax?
10. What obstacles do you face to get there?
11. What is the deadline for the protagonist to accomplish his objective. (The clock needs to be ticking.)
Your protagonist must have; a weakness, a handicap, an inner pain, and/or a secret.
Your villain must have; a human side, a weakness, a special strength, and/or a secret.

There are similar lists available in various writing books and on the internet, so you can choose your own. Elements you absolutely need in a first draft are limited. The first thing you do is check to see if you have covered all the bases.

Next, you superimpose your bare bones story with your plot points. Your outline may have any number of plot points. (Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet has fourteen, but James Patterson typically seems to be using a twenty-two point list if you reverse engineer his novels.) Assuming that all the plot points are already represented in the bare bones draft, the spaces you need to fill in should be in between the plot points. These fill-ins should all have a structure, typically a three part structure, but you can also use the four part structure I explained in my blog. Each fill-in should lead to each following plot point.

Given that, you should get a fair first draft, with only a handful of “think about it later” spaces that are best left for the second draft anyway.

The problem, however, is the steam. Some people experience a loss of steam after finishing a bare bones story line and cannot marshal the enthusiasm to fill in the blank spaces. This is because they are trying to “make it something that people might actually want to read”.

The first draft is all about what you want to read (or write). What other people might want to read is a second draft consideration. Once you’ve covered the bare essentials, focus on what amuses you. Not what the story needs.

Remember the Lego Movie. It was dismissed by the critics as a lengthy product advertisement, which it was. But it was also a pretty good movie. They should have expected nothing less. People who made that movie love Legos. That love just couldn’t help but seep through. If the story gets a little clunky because you are just piling on stuff you like to see, don’t sweat it. This is only the first draft.


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