The Hidden Surprise in the First Draft

I am a slow writer. No so much for blogs, or short stories, but for novels. I plod along though characters and plot. I’m guaranteed to stall at chapters 3 and 13 and not until I’m in the last ten (of generally 40) chapters do I zip along, confident in where my story is going. By this time, a good six months have passed between chapter 1 and chapter 40.

That’s not a bad thing for me in the editing process. My first draft is right out of Scrivener. I run it through Word and a spell check and take it directly to Autocrit. The Autocrit program looks for pacing, passive voice, overused words. All the nasty little items and cause a story to slow until the reader wants to toss it to the wall. Autocrit takes another week or two. Depending on whether my day job has me in Miami for a week or so. Then I settle in for a two to three day read.

That’s where being a slow writer becomes a plus. By the time I get to the read through, I know my characters and my story, but I’ve forgotten the detail. All those little moments that make a novel memorable. The turn of the phrase in this chapter, the dialogue in that. I read my second draft as if I have never seen the book before. It’s all new to me again.

Even reading with a critical eye I find tiny gems amid the OMG I have to cut this out sections. Those little gems make me keep reading and writing. They are the surprises in the first draft. The bits and pieces that I know I will keep and that keep me writing.

Writing is a hard process. It’s one that I love, but it is difficult. By the time I finish a book, I’m thinking, this was so hard to write, no one will ever want to read it. When I dig into the third draft, and realize I’m turning some of the pages wanting to know what happens next (and yes, wearing my red pencil to the nub) I believe again. By the end of the third draft revisions, I’m ready to send my newest child out into the world, confident again that it’s worth the read.

How about you, writers, how do you feel at the end of the writing process? Readers, what keeps you turning the pages?

Kait Carson writes mysteries with a Florida flair. You can connect with her on twitter, @kaitcarson, on Facebook, facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor of by e-mail at kait.carson@gmail.com

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Author: kaitcarson

I write mysteries set in South Florida. The Hayden Kent series is set in the Florida Keys. Hayden is a SCUBA diving paralegal who keeps finding bodies. Underwater, no one can hear you scream! Catherine Swope is a Miami Realtor with a penchant for finding bodies in the darndest places. I live in an airpark in Fort Denaud, FL with my husband, six cats and three birds. And oh yes, a Piper Cherokee 6 in the hangar!

17 thoughts on “The Hidden Surprise in the First Draft”

  1. I write fast, but I leave time between first draft and diving into editing so I forget a lot of the details. The beginning is fun. The middle is exhausting (I feel like you do), but the ending is exhilarating – I did it! As a reader, I want to be interested in the characters, invested in seeing where they are going and what they are doing. And if you can throw a couple of “wow, didn’t see that coming” moments in, so much the better. Yeah, not asking for much, am I?

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  2. I write slowly, partly because I am a pantser, but also because my first draft is pretty clean. I just can’t charge ahead NanoWriMo style and leave out details, or not worry about punctuation (and I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried). I’ve also tried Scrivener (even took a course) and hated it. I’m totally Word. If only I could sell my Scrivener software on craigslist 🙂 I’ve never heard of Autocrit. Will check it out. Great post!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your process, Kait. Interesting about chapters 3 and 13! I’m a panster too, but trying to fix that because I often get hung up when I take a wrong turn somewhere. Once I figure that out, it’s usually clear sailing until the end. Ideally, I like to switch to another project between first draft and the edit process.

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  4. Judy, I’m like you. My brain does not compute Scrivener! But Kait, I’m very interested in hearing more about Autocrit.

    Love hearing your process. And it definitely works because your books are great!

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  5. Scrivener intimidates me. I have it but never use it. Autocrit sounds interesting! Thanks, Kait, for a terrific post. Enjoyed hearing about your process and envy the sense of confidence you are able to manifest. 🙂

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  6. Sorry for being so late at replying to comments. Today was doctor day 😦 or Grr. Depending on how I’,m feeling at the moment.
    @Mary, I envy a fast writer. I am for shorts and blogs, not novels. Working at it, working at it – I feel like the little engine that could! You are not asking for much, Mary – you are asking writers to fulfill the promise they make to the reader, that the book will be a good read and give value for the time investment!

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  7. @Judy, Thank you, Judy. I love, love, love Scrivener because I will often find I write scenes that bloom in my mind, but as yet have no place in the story. Except I know they will, sort of. I’m a pantser too, sort of. Scrivener lets me drag and drop the entire scene where it belongs. It also lets me move scenes around during the drafting stage. For example, In Death By Doubloons, my current WIP, I realized that that Chapter 23 had more impact and made more sense as Chapter 21 and I needed to put one of my already drafted scenes in the middle and break Chapter 22 into two different chapters, one that would not occur until Chapter 31. With Scrivener, easy peasy. That said, once the first draft is done, everything else happens in Word. Oh, the other thing I like about Scrivener (see, I have a non-linear mind) is the index card corkboard. I can code the metadata with the a color code for character, the location of the scene and the purpose of the scene (red herring, clue, etc.) Then I can see how the story stacks up in terms of pacing. All very visual.

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  8. @Sue, saluting another pantser! Yes, indeed, I start out with an inciting incident and often know the end result. Then the story develops as I write – and the ending is not cast in stone! I say I am a sort of pantser because after I read 2,000k to 10,000k, by Rachel Aaron – I took the author’s advice and began outlining the chapters, but not the book. It really worked for me. But if I wrote 10,000 words in a day, I’d figure out someway to tout that to the world – after I recovered from the faint!

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  9. @ Diane, thank you so much! Autocrit is a web based program. I hesitated to buy it, but I was glad I did. You paste your text in and it will look for pacing issues, overused words, passive words, showing v telling words, lots of other things and my all time favorite, compare to fiction. In that mode it will do things like tell you there are 13 uses of certain phrases and suggest you cut it to whatever. They have a freebie version, but it has word count restrictions, don’t remember what they were. I like to work with five chapter blocks. Try the freebie, see if you like it. http://www.autocrit.com

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  10. @Cynthia – thank you so much for your kind words. It takes a lot of shaking like an amoeba (do amoebas shake?) to get past the point of wanting to burn the manuscript and leave no traces to yeah, I’m enjoying this!

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  11. @Judy, I completely understand. the program, or any program is not for everyone. The most important thing about writing is to use a medium you are comfortable with. I know many who still first draft in longhand. Whatever works. Using the right tool will spark creativity. If you have to work it, it ain’t worth it!

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  12. It seems my first draft had a final surprise. As I revised the last ten chapters I discovered, my killer was a red herring. The real killer was someone I never suspected. I love it when my characters take over and won’t let me go until I get it right.

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  13. I felt the same way when I finished my first draft- that it was such a long and arduous process and it couldn’t be much fun to read. I usually write pretty fast and then take a break for a few weeks before looking at the project again.

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  14. Kait, that happened to me, too, in my last book. The reveal came in the show-down scene, where a different killer showed up. Surprises like these are fun, but they make the edit process all that much harder!

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