Yesterday, I blogged about the writing process and discussed a bit about pre-drafts (click here to read). I figured today I would post and example of one. This is the pre-draft prologue to a short story I am writing for an anthology for Kerlak Publishing. As I continue these writing process blogs, I’m going to show you how I took this pre-draft and turned it into a final copy. (Thank goodness I kept all my notes!)
Note that I’m not striving for perfection here. This was my pre-draft–my glorified outline. I’m focusing on stage directions, emotion, and getting a feel for my characters. A plotter would think this stuff and write it in an outline. I skip that step and just type as I think. I try to let my characters do as much of the work for me as possible. It tells me what they’re made of. This guy, Peter, is pretty tough. Note that it’s written in first person, which is rare for me, but that’s how it came out. I couldn’t stop it.
I fought back my gag reflex [sdt] as I took a bite of the moldy piece of bread. I hadn’t eaten in a week, and moldy bread seemed better than no bread, even if my instincts told me otherwise. I hung back behind the dumpster, near the warming glow of the restaurant door. I probably should have backed away, but their voices gave me the comfort of human interaction I had not enjoyed for months. I listened quietly, wishing I spoke Romanian. I think it was Romanian. Was I still in Romania? I moved closer to the door, enjoying the warmth. I didn’t worry about the patrons or employees spotting me—one whiff of my ______ or the sight of my rags would be enough to scare anyone away.
Something crashed down the alleyway. I crouched in behind the dumpster and peered out. My heart beat fast [clichéd]. Was it them?
They lost your trail in Italy, I reminded myself.
But they could have picked it up again. So reassuring, the other side of my mind.
What about THEM?
“They can’t touch me,” I reminded myself. [breathing heavy. Breath turning to fog.]
My heart pounded [repeated], and I watched the scraps of metal and wood near the dumpster for a sign of movement.
An old tomcat, the cause of the noise, hobbled past, winding around my leg. My heart rate slowed. Stupid cat.
I took the last bite of bread and shook the few crumbs off my matted beard. It tasted stale. I was getting tired of stale bread. Again, I twirled my Princeton Class ring around my finger, tempted [again] to pawn it. Keep it, I told myself. I needed something to remind me of my former life. [Too much identification.]
Through the alley, I saw the street lights flicker on. I crept back into the dumpster’s shadow. Night would come soon [use better word]. I needed all my senses working correctly if I was to outsmart those who were hunting me. Please understand, of all those who have been hunting me, it’s humans I fear the least.
A few things to note here:
Remember how we discussed getting your story idea from an image that stuck in your brain? This story idea started with an image of a white rider on a white horse that hit my brain the moment Kerlak Publishing asked me to write an angel story for one of their anthologies. Remember that your image is your jumping point to brainstorm–not necessarily where you start.
Note that the writing sucks. I mean, “I listened quietly”? Of course my character is quiet when he listens! Redundancy! I’m using the same words over and over, adding in cliches, and not following through on thoughts. But that’s not the point. Right now, I’m constructing the skeleton of my story. This passage had not been touched with my red editing pen yet. (It has now, but I’ll share that later.) It’s supposed to suck. Your first round of writing will suck, too. Remember, Hemingway said, “There are no good writers. Only good editors.”
Notice my use of [brackets]. I use brackets to indicate notes to myself regarding things I don’t feel like writing. During the pre-draft stage, I often use my brackets to indicate sensory details that I will add later. Another great thing about brackets: You can use the find/replace function in MS Word to find all of them when you are turning your pre-draft into your first draft.
The first bracket you will see is one that says [sdt]. That stands for “Show, Don’t Tell.” I don’t want to tell the audience, “My character has a gag reflex,” which is what I’m doing right now. I want my readers to feel the gag and want to puke up whatever this guy is eating. I knew when I came back to edit I would adjust this sentence, but when I wrote this pre-draft, I was concentrating on stage directions and emotion. Also, notice my [breath turning into fog] note. I didn’t want to take the time to develop it but I needed to remind myself it was cold. Telling the reader that my character’s breath turned into fog is much more exciting and creates a better picture than saying, “It was cold outside.”
As we go through the writing process, I will show you how I change this introduction scene into the final draft. For now, I wwant to point out a few things I put into this pre-draft when I first wrote it and why:
- My character is homeless and in Europe. He’s not sure what country he’s in. He’s on the run. He’s eating moldy bread. I’m doing two things here. First, I’m making him a sympathetic character. You sympathize with this guy because his life sucks. Second, I’m building your curiosity. Why is he hiding in Europe? Why is he homeless? Why doesn’t he know where he is? And who is he running from? Remember the cardinal rule of introductions: NO INFORMATION DUMPING. I’ve told you nothing about this guy except that he is in trouble. I’m hoping you will want to know more and keep reading.
- The Princeton class ring tells the reader a few things. Peter is intelligent. He was once successful. The fact that he still has his class ring shows that he is hanging on to some element of hope that he might get his former life back.
- Night noises scare him more than they might scare others. I’m putting this in as foreshadowing.
- He hasn’t talked to many people in a while, and he’s starting to talk to himself.
- And I added in, “Of all those chasing me, it’s humans I fear the least,” just to get people to keep reading. It’s my “hook.” I might take it out. I’m not sure yet…
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.