In The Trenches: Using First Drafts to Color Outside the Linesby Jordan Philips, Tuesday November 19, 2013
For the next few months, the authors Chandler Baker, Virginia Boecker, and Lee Kelly's will take us with them on an inspiring writing journey through the medium of blogs posts. Today, Chandler looks at the fun you can have with your first drafts.
Think of first drafts like your early 20s. It’s the best time and place to experiment…and practically nobody needs to know.
For me, first drafts mean freedom. If I’m not trying out at least one new technique in a story, I get bored. A blank page is the beginning of a new book and therefore time to grow those writing chops! We take what we absorbed from our previous efforts and try to take that next giant step forward in improving our skillsets.
One of the best ways to do that is by playing with craft & structure. Here are some quick ideas for how to experiment:
1. Story framing/Narrative devices: Story framing is exactly that—a frame. It can be a lens through which to view your story, an overlay on your more traditional narrative prose that adds interest and dimension. For instance, if you’re writing a spy novel, could you frame certain elements of the story as a mission report? If you’re writing science fiction, can you incorporate elements of the scientific methods in your chapter introductions?
Examples of this at work: E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks begins with Frankie writing a letter to the headmaster confessing her mal-doings; and Jellicoe Road contains a story within a story as the main character reads an abandoned manuscript.
2. Chronology: I’ve seen stories told backwards, out of order, with flashbacks and all sorts of variations. Not all stories need to be told directly from point A to point Z. Does yours?
Examples of this at work: Courtney Summers’ Cracked Up To Be uses flashbacks that reveal more and more about what happened to emotionally ruin the main character; and Mandy Hubbard’s But I Love Him tells the story backwards in order to show how one girl found herself in an abusive relationship.
3. Point of View: Who is telling your story? When choosing a point of view, the author decides from what vantage point the reader should view his or her story. And there are a lot of possibilities. For instance, could there be more than one point of view that allows the reader to get deeper into the motivations of other characters? Is your narrator trustworthy or a liar? What does the chosen point of view say about your story?
Examples of this at work: Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief is narrated by a personified Death; and Sally Green’s Half Bad at times uses the second person “you” to show a shift in the main character’s present mental state.
4. Chapter Headings: This is an often-forgotten place to exercise your creativity. There are a myriad of inventive touches you can add just by paying attention to chapter headings.
Examples of this at work: John Green’s Looking for Alaska divides the chapters with labels of either “Before” or “After” so that the reader is unsure of before or after what; and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver uses temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit as the chapter headings to add suspense.”
A little creativity and thinking outside the box can go a long way in adding narrative interest. Don’t be afraid to try them! Remember: first drafts are not the time to worry about who will see you and what they’ll think. This is the time to run amok in your birthday suit, so get after it!
Question: What new techniques are you trying in your current work-in-progress? Tell me about them in the comments & feel free to continue the conversation all week long by tweeting me @chandlerbakerYA.
Chandler Baker is the author of the forthcoming ALIVE from Disney-Hyperion as well as a number of ghostwritten novels for teens & tweens.