Brandon Sanderson has many excellent YouTube videos about writing fiction.
In a 2020 class, he states:
“In your writing, focus on what excites you about the story, and get the story done. Then go back and fill in what needs to be there.”
Of course, every writer is different. You have to do what works best for you. But for me, this statement resonates.
Imagine you’re having a massive sweet-tooth craving, so you go to the grocery store and run down the aisle, selecting ingredients for an impromptu dessert.
Ingredients that excite you.
You’re not trying to put it all into the structure of a pan and make it a presentable treat right there in the store. You’re just having a blast gathering ingredients, excited by the possibilities.
When I write the first draft of a novel, I want it to feel like that.
But what are the ingredients that should be gathered on a first draft?
That depends on you.
What excites you about the story you’re working on?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s my take.
I write middle-grade humor/adventure. Here are the things that excite me the most about a story – the stuff I focus on during a first draft:
*A funny title. I know, I know. You probably don’t agree with this. After all, in many cases a title isn’t selected until after the book is written, several drafts through. So, why include this as something to focus on during a first draft? Hear me out. As a Barnes & Noble bookseller, I can’t stress enough the importance of a standout title. A title that evokes the main emotion of your story. For someone like me, who claims to write comedy, my book needs to have a laugh-out-loud title. If the title makes potential buyers laugh, they will trust the inside content to be funny as well. And the thought of my story having a surefire, laugh-out-loud, easy-to-sell title is exciting to me. And if I have this gold-title from the beginning, it gives me confidence to do better work on my first draft, as I attempt to create story content that lives up to it. So, yes. For me, a funny title is one of the key ingredients I try to gather right off the bat.
*An action-packed plot that explodes with big laughs, frantic pacing, and heart-pounding suspense. Oh, yes. This is what excites me about writing. Blasting into the first draft, I scream in my mind: “I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR BOOK-BUYERS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD: WHEN YOU FINISH READING A BOOK WITH MY NAME ON THE COVER, YOUR STOMACH WILL HURT FROM LAUGHTER AND YOU’LL BE DIZZY AND OUT OF BREATH LIKE YOU JUST CAME OFF A ROLLERCOASTER. THAT’S WHAT I DO. THAT’S WHAT I SELL.” Of course, whether or not my finished product lives up to this statement is debatable, but this is my goal. As a result, on the first draft I hit the jokes and action hard, giving little thought to things like character arcs or whether the structure fits perfectly with SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL.
*Funny characters who are designed to interact with each other in entertaining ways. I’m always excited to create new characters and to discover how they riff off each other. So, a huge focus for me on a first draft is character interaction. Is there comical chemistry between them? Will readers want to hang out with them for the length of a novel?
There you go.
A short list, but these are the things that excite me the most about writing. When I see these things in my first draft, I’ve gathered my ingredients.
Again, I’m not suggesting this should be everyone’s list. I’m just providing an example. The idea here is to identify what excites you the most about your story, and then focus on those things, whatever they are, during your first draft. Have fun and let your excitement shine.
In the second draft and beyond, focus on the other stuff. Yes, things get messy and don’t always come easy.
Having to fit my ingredients into the structure of a pan, or the structure of a novel, can be a crushing challenge.
I’m not excited about the pan I put a dessert into. I’m also not always excited about every aspect of writing a novel. Sometimes it’s a drag to figure out the character arcs when I’d rather make up more jokes and action sequences. And yet, if I want my dessert or story to be presentable to others, this structure is expected and needed.
But if the initial ingredients came from a place of excitement, the flavor will carry into the final product.
That’s why I focus on what excites me in a first draft, just having a fun-filled blast and gathering the best ingredients for the story.
If I feel bogged down from the beginning, trying to make every aspect of my novel perfect from the start, it will show in the ingredients I gather, and my end result will have a labored and contrived feel to it.
Thanks for reading.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have stories to write.
And desserts to eat.
Somebody has to do it.