Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nine Exercises #8: A Draft: Act III


Welcome to the eighth installment of Nine Exercises to Help You Draft a New Story.

Exercise #8: A Draft: Act III

Time: 30 minutes

If you've done Exercise #6 and Exercise #7, you now have a fast and messy draft of Acts I and II of your story. Today you'll write Act III.

You've launched into your story now, and really, you can wind it up any way you like. Just sit down and do it for half an hour at a minimum, three hours max. Push through to the end—some kind of ending—in one sitting.

If you want guidelines, see below. We first sketched the plot using Billy Wilder's "get your hero up a tree" analogy, and we're still following a screenwriting(-ish) model. The guidelines may sound formulaic. They are. But there is a lot of room for interpretation, and if you stay true to your character and the story as you've written it so far, you'll come up with something that is not cliched, feels real, and is yours.

As always, if you find yourself pushing your character to do something she doesn't want to for the sake of plot, and it feels wrong, then stop. Ask what she, the real, living character, actually wants to do. And go with that. Even if it doesn't fully make sense to you yet, go with it. Honoring your character is more important than sticking to your outline; you can tidy up the structure when you rewrite. We'll tackle re-reading and rewriting in later exercises.

Guidelines (if you want them):

In ten minutes, write a passage in which your character does the following:
-Thinks about what she wants—the thing she has been wanting since the beginning
-Understands her old plan to get it can't work anymore

In the next ten minutes, write how your character:
-Finds, or finally recognizes, a strength (which could come from accepting that the "problem" is actually part of her and confers its own strange blessings)
-Uses her new knowledge to make a new plan to get what she wants. Perhaps what she wants has changed as she has changed as she's moved through the story. So maybe her goal is different now. Maybe she's now able to see that what she needs has been there all along, only she didn't recognize it before. (Remember this?)

In your final ten minutes of writing, you character follows her new plan to the end of the story.

+ + +

You now have a full, very rough draft of a story!

What, you don't think it's perfect? You maybe don't even think it's good at all? That's normal.

But it's worse than that, isn't it? You're actually wondering, how the hell am ever I going to turn this piece of crap into a story? I'm not. I knew I wasn't a writer, and this proves it.

The hard truth is, that's often what writing is like. You're probably always going to feel that way after your first draft. And maybe after your second, third and fourth drafts. You might not—but you might. (See the Ann Patchett quote in this essay if you don't believe me.)

Here's John Gardner again from The Art of Fiction:

"The organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader’s mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writer’s mind. Through the process of writing and endless revising, the writer makes available the order the reader sees."

Notice he said "endless revising." Endless!

It won't be endless in reality. You'll have to stop sometime, either because you've decided the story is as done as it's ever going to be, or because you give up. But you will have to revise, a lot. That is where a lot of writing happens.

Here's Raymond Carver: "I write the first draft quickly, as I said. . . . The real work comes later, after I've done three or four drafts of the story."

The real work comes after he's done three or four drafts.

Okay. So this is where a lot of writers drop out of the race. It's hard writing even the first draft. I know! Harder still to keep the faith and stick with it through three or four, and only then begin "the real work."

It's both good news and bad news. The good news is that if you can keep it at, you can make it to the finish line. You really can. The bad news is that it could be a long haul. There's no guarantee it will be with the story that you're working on now. It may be with the next one, or the next. At some point you'll have to get feedback from others: friends, writing group members, teachers, classmates, editors. It might be harsh, and you'll have to absorb it and learn from it. But perseverance will pay off. If you want to get there badly enough, you'll get there.

In other words, it's no different from learning to be good at anything: Archery, carpentry, karate, swimming. In order to be able to stand doing as much work as it requires to become good at it, you have to really, really love it.

Forget about what you've written for now. The next exercise will not require you even to look at it, and I suggest you don't. Put it away for a while. Later, in the next series of exercises, we'll talk about revision. But you'll also naturally gain perspective if you set it aside for a week or two, and you'll have many ideas about how to fix it when you go back to it. You'll also realize that some of what you wrote—maybe most of it—isn't half bad after all.

I would just like to point out, again, that you have written an entire draft of a story. You're doing it. You're writing. You had doubts, but you pushed through. That is huge. That is everything. Take some time to feel good about that, and to celebrate.

Next: Snapshots from Your Subconscious



Joachim Patinir, Landscape with the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 1520




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