In the last tip, Tackling the First Draft, we talked about how putting words on the page is like making clay—creating malleable material that you can later sculpt through revisions. It’s not important in this stage to be good, but you’ll find that the more experience you have writing first drafts, the better quality your clay becomes.
We also talked about picturing the sculpture underneath the clay. Though details and outlines up front are sometimes helpful, it’s not always the case. Story and character arcs are often revealed as you write and it’s your job to pay attention.
Another thing to pay attention to as you’re crafting your first draft is making sure you are creating conflict and keeping the tension taut. You must keep raising the stakes for your main character. You know how I mentioned in the last chapter that you are always asking yourself, what happens next? You don’t want to fall into the trap of this happened and then this happened and this happened. You can’t just give us a day-by-day accounting of your character’s life. Each event has to happen for a reason.
You also don’t want to take us step by step through everything that happens from point A to point B, unless it’s necessary to the story.
You’ll remember the three act structure from tip #2, The Bones It Hangs On. Here is a version of it on a 45 degree angle.
Each scene, each plot point, all way to the climax, must raise the stakes for your character.
Picture your character building a snowball while rolling it up hill. The bigger it gets, the higher the angle the more difficult life becomes for your character until ultimately, he or she gets to toss the thing off the cliff—also known as the climax.
Conflict builds tension, whether it’s inner conflict or external.
The expected thing is not the thing that should happen. To quote literary agent Donald Maass, “Tension on every page.”
There must be a reason for everything that happens. Each scene is necessary to propel the story forward. Life must get increasingly difficult for your protagonist.
Take HUNGER GAMES: first Katniss has to care for her family, then she takes her sister’s place in the games, then she has to survive the games, etc.
You will probably write scenes in your first draft that don’t raise the stakes and have to be cut later on and that’s all right for now as you write your first draft. Just keep in mind that while you’re writing it, you want to go up hill.