False Starts

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My (Terrible) First Draft

Last week, I mentioned how I was going to write a short first draft in one sitting. Mission accomplished. I cranked out six pages in a marathon five-hour writing session. Then, as I was biking home, I began to realize that what I had written was absolute garbage (and I had a week to fix it before I had to stand up and read it in front of people).

Ultimately, I kept three paragraphs from my first draft and rewrote the rest. However, the work that ended up on the cutting room floor served its purpose too. While I didn’t use the actual sentences, I was able to get a better understanding of my characters. And while narrative arc was a huge problem in this story, being able to actually identify the problems with it helped me craft a far more cohesive one in the second draft and onward.

Originally, this was a story about a young man who survived a high school shooting when he was 12, and the video games his roommate played were setting off some kind of PTSD within him. He went to a concert with a woman he had just started dating, but found himself jumpy and nervous after she snuck in a metal flask that wasn’t picked up by the security wands at the venue. In the end, she tries to cajole him into talking about the incident — she had googled his name and realized it was him.

The problem with this incarnation of the story was that A) it relied too heavily on backstory and B) it felt like three different scenes that were only tenuously connected by loose story logic. I will confess to laying on the sentimentality pretty thick in that draft as well. It wasn’t pretty. But I was able to take some of the elements of the story I was interested in telling and transplant them into a story that only shared a few threads from the original (roommate playing violent video games, saturation of guns in entertainment and reality, paranoia).

Fortunately, I can illustrate what I’m talking about. The podcast for the Fictlicious Haunted Show is already online at https://soundcloud.com/fictlicious/the-haunted-show. My reading of “Name Your Weapons” starts at the 56:00 mark (though I encourage you to check out the other writers and musicians, too–it was a great show). If you listen to my story, you’ll hear something completely different from the one I described above. It may not be the best story I’ve ever written, but it’s light years from where I started. And it was lots of fun to read at the Hideout last week. Hope you like it.

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