First Drafts


First of the first. Elaine Forrestal with Junior Primary students who are writing their first drafts.

I am currently working on the first draft of my next historical fiction. It does’t have a title yet, but I thought this would be a good time to talk about first drafts in general.

The fun thing about first drafts is that you can do, and say, whatever you like. The words you put down on your page don’t have to be spelled correctly. They don’t have to be neatly written, or even make a lot of sense to any one else but you. A first draft can have crossing out, arrows to the back, or other parts, of the page. It can have drawings, dot points, diagrams, key words. In fact, anything goes. The only person who needs to be able to read your first draft is you!

It’s the second, and subsequent, drafts that are harder – but still lots of fun. These are the ones where you play around with the words you have chosen. You get to know your characters. How do they speak? How do they feel? What sort of accent, or body language, do they use? What sort of adventures, accidents, excitements will they experience? This is where the plot comes in. It’s good to have some ideas, but I find that the characters often take over the story at this point. And if they want to change what happens, I let them. In fact I encourage them, because the plot has to be relevant to the characters – not the other way around.

At the moment my characters are developing so fast that I sometimes have trouble keeping up with them. And as they develop I can see more and more possibilities that could be included in the story. I know that I will do at least seven drafts, before I get it into a shape that I am happy to show to an editor. But each new draft will improve the descriptions, the dialogue and the rhythm of the story.

The editing process is a whole different ball game. That involves collaboration, trust and confidence. But for now I have my story all to myself and I am really enjoying playing around with it.

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