Three Keys to a Killer First Draft

How to Write a Killer First Draft - PJ ReeceContributed by PJ Reece

Do you strive for first draft perfection? Sorry, but there’s no such thing.

Ernest Hemingway said his first drafts were steaming piles of whatever. With an attitude like that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A writer needn’t know much in order to begin. But the best writers possess storytelling instincts. Here are three basic (attitudes) to run with all the way to a completed first draft.

1. Every story is an escape story
Consider that every protagonist is on a trajectory toward a radical change of heart. Everyone, in fiction as in real life, yearns to escape the gravity field of outmoded beliefs that prevent their greatest happiness.
Easier said than done. In fact, it’s easier to die than change.

2. The Hero Must Die
A fictional protagonist begins the story as a willing prisoner of his or her worldview. As you know, every hero has a goal. But it’s not by the achievement of the goal that the best stories succeed. Rather, it’s in the failure. And I mean failing to the point of utter annihilation.

We have to ‘kill’ the hero.

If we sit down to write a story knowing only that our protagonist will lose such faith in his old self that he opens to a change of heart—Rocky, for example—then the other story mechanics will fall approximately into place.
To the degree that we understand this, we are able to write recklessly toward a first draft.

3. Be a pirate
I don’t start writing unless I’m excited. Something turns me on, usually a character. A character whose self-interest is their downfall. He or she, consciously or not, struggles to be free. I get excited by that. How it all plays out, I don’t know yet. If I avoid thinking too much, but keep on target to reach the necessary ‘death’ scene, a story will spin out more or less spontaneously.

Brenda Ueland (1891-1985) says it best: “Be careless, reckless. Be a lion, be a pirate! when you write.” When we write like a pirate, spontaneously, lawlessly, ruthlessly, we are as free as we want our fictional hero to be.

So, go ahead, be a killer, make a mess. You, me, and Ernest Hemingway, we’re going to clean it up in the rewrite.

Take your writing to a new level. Novel, memoir, screenplay—author PJ Reece gives you what you need to survive a first draft in this six-week writing workshop starting April 12 at the Arts Building. Learn more and register today!

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