Writing Fiction: 3 Savvy Tips To Power Through First Drafts

Do you find writing fiction challenging? First drafts can be chaotic. If you manage to find your way through your first draft, you need to organize your revision and edits, while maintaining your inspiration.

Many authors fear chaos, including my writing students, until they become aware that chaos is inevitable when you’re writing a first draft.

Your initial draft is meant to be disorganized, but if you’re inclined towards perfectionism, the chaos can make you crazy.

Let’s look at some simple words which can guide you through writing fiction, from a first draft to final edit.

Writing fiction: three simple words to guide you

The words:

Fiction is entertainment, above all.

The big risk is that we become so caught up in our characters and plotting, that we lose our original inspiration. If you keep emotion, senses, and scenes in mind, your fiction will be entertaining. More to the point, you’ll enjoy writing, because you’re allowing your creativity free rein.

Let’s look at some tips to help.

1. When you’re writing fiction, follow your emotions

Emotions lead to imagination; mental images—you see things in your imagination.

Here’s an example. Let’s say it’s midnight. You’re in a large, unfamiliar house alone; the house is out in the country, miles from anywhere. Perhaps you’re staying with friends; or it’s a vacation rental. Whatever. You’re alone. Something woke you… What do you feel? Are you seeing images in your mind?

Feelings inspire imagination, automatically. When you’re writing fiction, you’re writing what you see in your imagination.

Here’s Stephen King, on mental images and writing, in Imagery And The Third Eye:

Sometimes would-be writers will say to me, “I know what I mean but I don’t know how to describe it.” What this usually means is, “I can’t describe it because I can’t quite see it.”

(Read the full article when you have a few minutes, it’s well worth reading.)

Everyone is imaginative. Everyone. Occasionally a writer will tell me, “I’d love to write fiction, but I have no imagination.”

If you have feelings, you have imagination. When you’re writing fiction, you’re using your emotions to inspire your imagination deliberately.

The next step is to write what you see in your imagination. You do that using your senses, but as your viewpoint character.

2. Use your senses: see, hear, and touch as your viewpoint character

From our article on sensory writing:

We experience the world through our senses… For readers to experience the world of your novel, you bring them into it via their senses, through the medium of your viewpoint character.

Imagine yourself as your viewpoint character. What do you feel (emotion)? Allow yourself to feel what the viewpoint character feels, and use his senses.

Here’s a wonderful example of sensory writing.

Captain Rider Sandman, the hero of Bernard Cornwell’s Gallows Thief, survived the Battle of Waterloo, but it won’t leave his dreams:

… his ears filled with the thump of hooves and the crash of muskets and cannon, his eyes astonished by the hook of sabres and slashes of straight-bladed swords, and this time the dream was going to end with the cavalry smashing through the thin red-coated ranks, but then the rattle of hooves melded into a rush of feet on the stairs and a sketchy knock on his flimsy attic door.

If you keep emotions and senses in mind, you can power through not only your first drafts, but also through tidying up your fiction via edits.

IF you focus on scenes

Battle of Waterloo, 1815

3. Scenes: imagination rules fiction’s essential building blocks

Scenes are the building blocks of fiction.

Use your imagination to write scenes. You’ll power through your first drafts, and your edits. If you wish, you can write the transitions between scenes later.

Allow emotion and intuition to guide you: write whatever shows up in your imagination; there’s no need to write your scenes in any kind of order.

Scenes happen in real time:

In each scene, the reader identifies with your Point of View (POV) character; the reader is seeing what the POV character sees, touching what he touches, and feeling what he feels.

For the reader to feel and see what your viewpoint character feels and sees, you need to experience it first. Use emotion, and imagination, and describe what you see. As Stephen King suggests, if you can’t describe it, it means you can’t quite see it.

So, use your emotions: feel. Then experience, and describe.

From poet Robert Frost:

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

When you’re writing fiction, you’re using your imagination

Yes, I’m stating the obvious here. But if remember the sequence: emotion, senses, and scenes it will make writing fiction much easier. You’ll enjoy it. You won’t be bored; readers won’t either.

Before you know it, you’ll breeze through your first drafts. And your rewrites and edits too.


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