Now, I’ve recently had a conversation with a fellow writer about how much attention I give to description in my first draft. Honestly? Not much.
To me a first draft is about getting the story down – if that’s pure telling, then so be it. In a second draft you can work on spicing things up, turning simple language into beautiful prose.
I’ll share an example with you from my WIP called Bruised. Now when I wrote Bruised, I didn’t really have a brilliant grasp on tenses, or grammar. It proves to me how much I have learned about writing. I have the bare basics for this story but the technical aspects need tightening. The story is all there, so easy job, right?
Look at this passage from my first draft from Chapter Nine.
At first Evelyn sat outside the door, listening to everything Hunter said: … yes, sir, of course, no worries at all …
After a while, she huffed and hopped onto the couch, shuffling aside until comfortable. Rubbing the sore spot on her thigh, she looked at the closed door to her left. It must be important, why else would he call the person sir? Hopefully he wasn’t in any trouble, she always associated the word ‘sir’ with the principal whenever she got in trouble. It was rare, but it had happened.
When I read this back my first thought was ‘wait, what?’ And I’ll tell you why. I was so worried about getting the story down that I didn’t give each action time to shine and have it’s moment.I don’t know how this got through my old critique website without being slaughtered – and when I edited the piece, I changed it to this.
All of the story was in my head but it was badly executed. I know that with my skills and knowledge of the story I can improve writing like this to something more like this …
Evelyn pulled her legs to her chest and pressed her ear against the closed door. All she heard was Hunter’s voice, he sounded so serious – it was strange: yes, sir, of course, no worries at all …
Ugh, grown up stuff.
After a while, she huffed and abandoned post. She hopped onto the couch, shuffling aside until comfortable. “Stupid couch.” Evelyn rubbed her thigh until the sore spot went away. How could she live in this place with a broken sofa? Even Mama had a nice sofa.
She looked at the closed door to her left. It must be important, why else he call the person sir? Hopefully he wasn’t in any trouble, she always associated the word ‘sir’ with the principal whenever she got in trouble. It was rare, but it had happened. But it was never her fault … never.
It’s a lot stronger. It makes sense. Grammatically (forgive me if there are still errors) It’s a lot better.
I know some people who write flawless description. On the first drafts, it’s perfect. Bam. I envy them. I like to believe that my natural talent is for dialogue. Having graduated in Film Studies and my modules in screenwriting really taught me the art of dialogue so I feel a particular anger towards bad dialogue. (Terrible, I know, but it’s important.’
Here are some examples of my awesome writer friend’s work. They are awesome, and I’ll demonstrate how good their writing is.
Eliza swept past Dale and marched out to the moving van to retrieve the painting. Dale lingered in the kitchen, attempting to look busy by re-arranging boxes. He stopped to watch Eliza’s heavy stride out to the van, where all of their possessions sat strapped like prisoners in the back. Ignoring the eyes of the removal men, she lifted the painting from the far corner of the van and held it loftily, her arms raised high above her head.
There was something glorious about her ascent into the van – the twists and curves of her small frame amongst the bulky furniture, the fluttering flexes of her muscles as she lifted the painting above her head. A familiar sense of pride and admiration swelled in Dale’s chest.
Of course, the other men were watching too. The hired removal men were standing at the side of the pavement, sharing a cigarette. The paper seemed to burn quicker under the heat of their eyes as they watched Dale’s wife weaving between boxes. Dale wanted to put out a chivalrous arm in front of her, or to grab a fistful of her hair, anything to stake a claim in her. But all he did was watch her, carrying the painting, from the kitchen window.
Read more Cellars by Hannah Loughrey.
Its flawless. It’s perfect. I envy this talent and with this as my inspiration, I love when I read her work and it’s perfectly written. How I write, what feels good to me, I might achieve this after three or four re-writes, not early drafts.
Another friend of mine has exceptional talents like Hannah,
The rain kept on pouring, soaking his dark hair with cold relentless bullets dripping down his face; becoming one with his tears. Muddy, swollen feet, slushing through the mud; he could hear nothing more than the continuous rhythm of the impacting shells, on the distance, the pitter patter of rain upon his uniform and the shallow beating of his terrified heart. His hands were shaking violently at the sound of footsteps; a terrifying feeling of nausea and fear sinks beneath his skin. Rummaging through his pockets, the .30-06 Springfield rounds fell on the mud. Kneeling on blood stained dirt, he grabbed each bullet and wiped it with his shirt. The rifle sunk in his arms, trembling, unable to fit each bullet into the clip.
The Spanish, they called him. He was surrounded by Gringos, or that’s what he called them. People forgot where he came from, till he spoke. The thick Spanish accent that escaped his lips was conspicuous in any conversation. Now, in the middle of nowhere, he wished that someone would be there by his side. The scent of rain brought back memories of his beloved homeland; warmth and kindness, he misses all that. The sounds of his siblings, a tug of war for affection; life was so simple.
Something cold pressed against his neck, yes, he had nearly forgotten; a small necklace made with different types of tree barks he had collected over his journey. It all seemed so meaningless now. Placing the clip on the rifle, he pressed the, nearly frozen, bolt all the way to the back till it clicked. Holding his rifle across his chest, he steadied his movements. Breaking slowly, he aimed down the barrel squinting at the slow movements across the flooded, icy battlefield.
Read more of Red, White and Green Dust by Alexander Chantal.
This quality of description is what I aspire to. While these authors are unpublished (at the moment!) they still inspire me. Writing is a very subjective thing and for me, too much description make me skim the page for the next dialogue. But these two authors above perfectly capture what I enjoy reading.
Their first drafts are often technically brilliant. It’s alright for some, isn’t it? I’d hate them for their skills if I didn’t love them so much.
What is your view on first drafts and second drafts? Are you concerned with Description or getting the story down in your first draft? What methods works for you?