Monday, July 11, 2011

The Awesomeness that is the First Draft: The Top Three Crappy Things I do in First Drafts

EVERNEATH got an awesome review over at the fiction fairy.

But don't worry. I haven't let it go to my head. Because right after I read that review, I went through a first draft of my sequel, and that was enough to squash my ego, and make me think, "Ohmyheck, I'm too stupid to live."

One of the worst things about writing/reading through a first draft is the gigantic amount of "telling, not showing" instead of "showing, not telling". 

Bree Despain and I were at our weekly writing session, and we were talking about the biggest culprits in our first drafts.

1.  My personal favorite is the "Able to tell in a person's face what he or she is thinking".

Now, sometimes it's okay to say "I could tell from his expression that he had no idea what I was talking about."
But other times, the offense is egregious. 

An example of this is: 

"He gave me a look that said later tonight, when you're alone, I'm totally gonna sneak in your room and scare you."


"The way he salted his eggs told me he was thinking about that one time, at band camp, when it was more than our flutes making music..."

2.  Next, we have the "Inappropriate Metaphors or Similes to Explain a Point"
It's maybe okay to say:

"The air became hot, as if I was suddenly covered in a warm blanket."

But first drafts sometimes read like:
"The cool air washed over me like a donkey in heat, high on huffing glue."

It's okay to be unique, and not use cliches, but sometimes these can feel like a stretch.

3. Finally, we have the "There are only so many ways to describe a smile."

My characters smile. A lot. Despite all the destruction raining down on them, they smile.  Despite the fact that many lives are on the line, they smile.

Sometimes, both ends of their mouth pull up. 

Sometimes they grin, widely.

Sometimes one corner of their mouth quirks up. 

Sometimes they half-smile. 

Sometimes they "smile a smile that doesn't reach their eyes".

Sometimes their mouths resemble a "half-moon, on its side". 

Sometimes their lips quiver, on their way to a half smile, but then the sadness in their eyes extinguishes all evidence of said smile. 

My point is, it's okay for these things to exist. In a first draft. Use them to get to the end of your Work-In-Progress. That's what revising is for! What are some of your biggest culprits? Have you read any books lately that are guilty of these?


  1. I've noticed that I just can't stop using "that" and "just." And my characters smile too. They're like Cheshire Cats. :)

  2. ROFL - these are awesome. Yes. Get them out of your system in the first draft.

  3. Jenilyn- Sadly, I've used "smiled like a cheshire cat" on more than a few occasions!

    Donna- These are awesomely bad, yes. The easy part is getting rid of them. The hard part is figuring out what to replace them with!

  4. You had me a "donkey in heat, high on huffing glue." Seriously, Brodi. You crack me up.

  5. To describe a smile, I like the typical and easy description: "She could tell he was excited to see her because he looked at her with a frown, but it wasn't a frown, it was the exact opposite of a frown and she did the exact opposite of a frown face back to him and both were full of joy."

  6. L.T.- Sometimes a high donkey is the only metaphor out there. :)

    Sam- You should totally write my next book!

  7. I have a problem with emotional rollercoasters. Some characters are surprised, happy, and furious all in half a page. I need to remember my characters shouldn't be as crazy as I am.

  8. I just keep telling myself that. Mine for sure is the smile too. The cocky smile, the knowing smile, the coy smile, but of course all these ways described without the punch word.

  9. Lesli- That is a good rule! Never make a character as crazy as the writer. Nobody would ever believe someone could be THAT crazy.

    Debbie- Don't forget the wry smile!

  10. so funny! things that find themselves into my first drafts:

    1. "by me" "at me" "towards me" "away from me"... you get the idea. once i went back and deleted all that unnecessary choreography my book was 1/2 as long (possibly a slight exaggeration, but really, it's so embarrassing how much of this there always is in my first drafts.)

    2. overly wordy phrases, which my writer's group so kindly points out.
    1st draft: i inhaled sharply without meaning to.
    critique partner correction: i gasped.

    3. disappearing plot threads and characters. perhaps if i could create a story while i outlined this would not happen, and writing would take up far less time, but so far, my best ideas continue to stubbornly come only WHILE i write.

    aw well. first drafts are fun to mock, and i LOVE revising. i say get the crappy draft over quick and then put in the time on the revisions.

  11. Argh! The smile thing! People smile in real life! WHAT are they supposed to do in my book? I haven't been brave enough to check, but I bet I use the word smile an average of once a page. Is that too much? :(

    Why can't we just use emoticons in our novels?

  12. Rachel- I'm the exact same way! The only ideas that ever come to me come when I'm in the middle of writing the darn thing!

    Your comment made me laugh.

    Robin- That's where screenwriters have it so much easier. They just have to do the dialogue, and then they can say stuff like "He walks over to the counter, obviously frustrated."

  13. "Ohmyheck, I'm too stupid to live." - NOT true. But made me laugh so hard. And seriously, I bow to you fiction writers. How do you do it?? My characters would all be high on huffing glue and smiling from to ear to ear the entire book. You amaze me. Great writer advice. And I was wondering... can you sign my copy - "Michael Jackson?" Just curious. ;)

  14. Cath- I totally can sign it "Michael Jackson"! Thanks for noticing I signed my book "Betsy Ross". Nobody else noticed. :)

  15. Brodi-
    Thank you for mentioning me!!!! You totally just made me day!

  16. FictionFairy- You totally made my week with that review! :)

  17. Yeah, here I thought you were going to tell me how to fix these problems. Espeically the smile problem. Please oh please... everyone in my book is smiling too & it's all terrible!! Save me Brodi, tell me how to fix this!

  18. Olivia- The key is to stop making your characters so happy. It solves the smiling problem. Kill some people off. That'll make 'em frown.

  19. How did I miss this post? Seriously, I think my Google Reader is hiding posts from me.

    "The cool air washed over me like a donkey in heat, high on huffing glue." - LOL. This sounds like something I'd say in real life. I mix up, make up, slaughter, however you want to describe it, metaphors all the time!

  20. Jenni- Maybe google reader judges my posts. And it determined this one wasn't worth your time. Glad you found it!