If you've been following this blog, you probably know that I'm not much of a fan of first drafts. In fact, you could say that I hate them. Hate with the fury of a thousand burning suns.
But they are necessary.
First drafts lead to seconds. Seconds lead to thirds. And somewhere down the line is the finished product. It all starts with that first pass. And that first pass is almost always a pile of hot garbage.
So you can imagine how I felt when, this past weekend, I finished the first draft of a new pilot. 60 pages of clean, pure script. And yes, it has so many mistakes that I shudder to even call it a story, but that's how it starts. One pass down. A million to go.
Now I hear you: Adam, you've finished draft one. What now?
Don't worry, baby birds. I've got you. Today, we're going to talk about editing your first draft.
Before I begin, let me preface with "What the hell do I know?" I've been writing for over a decade, churned out four books and a dozen scripts. My methods and madness are by no means my own, but they are also by no means universal. Your mileage may vary. But let me show you what works for me.
First and foremost, I print out the draft. It's not a purist thing, it's practical. I have tested myself in the digital arena and found my editing to be wanting. I missed typos, bypassed plot holes, and basically ignored some glaring issues. In printed form, I catch more than my fair share on the first go through.
I've also found that taking a red pen to my scripts and stories helps me identify what works and what doesn't. There is a visceral feeling, scratching out a sentence and knowing it will never come back. Some might say it adds steps, because I'll still have to go back and do all this again in the digital copy, but I swear by it. Print out your work and read it in hard copy.
This is based on advice I've been given over the years, and you don't always have the luxury of giving a manuscript time, but try to leave the story for a few days. Weeks if you can. Set it aside and work on something else. Come back in a week or two and give it a read as though for the first time.
You'll be amazed how much that helps the editing process.
When a story is fresh in your mind, your brain actually makes the editing process harder. I've found that when I go back immediately after finishing, I miss HUGE typos in the script. Did I leave a word out of a sentence? My brain inserts it there to make sense of things...which is not helpful for the future reader.
Taking a pause also gives you some objectivity with the script. Whereas right now it is your baby, giving it time can turn it into your sullen teenager. That arrogant bastard deserves--nay, REQUIRES--some discipline. And Mr. Red Pen is ready to help.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Uh oh. Adam's quoting Faulkner. Someone get the scotch out of his hands.
If you've ever been through a writing class, you've heard the phrase "Kill your darlings" before. What the hell does it even mean?
Put simply: The story wasn't written just for you. It's not there to entertain your friends. You are writing a story that is meant to stand the test of time. You are weaving a tale to enrapture the world. And you know what? They don't give a shit about that clever inside joke you've hidden on page 13. They never met your high school gym coach who TOTALLY spoke that way. They have no idea why rusty spoons are so funny to you.
Darlings are the little nuggets you put in the script to motivate you to finish. During the first draft, there are always moments where you want to quit. The story lags, the characters stumble, and you start wondering if maybe this whole writing career is even worth the effort. So, to keep your head in the game, you insert a little joke from your favorite TV show. And you giggle.
Seriously. You giggle like a schoolchild. And it keeps you on track and writing.
But no one needs that line.
Your darlings can also be characters. Sometimes you find your voice with a new character. You wrote them in at the last minute, introducing the bumbling butler at precisely the right moment. He adds humor and punch, with just a little heart. And you know what? He's a great character. He sings! But...he really should be folded into the maid character that you've already written as the protagonist.
But wait, you say. His story pays off in Book 3, when he marries the Queen of Efeldia after a loophole in the time/space continuum makes him the ruler of all Damomar!
Cool. No one cares about Book 3. We want to read (and sell) Book 1. In sports terms, this is called "thinking about the touchdown before the catch." It doesn't matter if your story really picks up in a hundred pages when the reader dropped the book after twenty.
Kill. Your. Darlings.
Hey, my dudes. Pat yourselves on the back. Whether it's a book, script, feature, or sexy limerick, YOU FINISHED A DRAFT!
That's actually a big deal.
Whether you realize it or not, you have become a member of a rather elite club. There are billions of people in the world, and most have never written a completed first draft. Fewer still go back and edit for draft two. Every time you sit down in front of your story and work, you are chipping away at the competition. You are narrowing the gap between you and your success. Every typo you find, every darling you kill, brings you one step closer to the pride and joy of a successful manuscript.
Don't forget to take a moment and be proud. This is a real accomplishment. Do a little dance, eat some donuts, drink some scotch. Celebrate in your chosen way and demand the world accept you for who you are: A writer!
Then, when the vices have worked their way out of your body, GET BACK TO WORK.
Because now we're in the real shit: Editing. And this is where stories are made.