The Rough Draft: Sketching Your Masterpiece

The most frustrating part of painting to me is showing someone what I’m working on  – mid-process. Kids are always the most honest.

“It’s kind of messy, Mom,” said my son, then five years old. He tilted his head to the side, squinting at my painting.

“I’m still working on it, bud. It’ll look a lot better when it’s done.”

“It will?”

“Yup. Just trust me. I’ve done this lots.”

He trusted me. That’s what five year olds do. And once it was done he did like it – even kept it on his dresser for years after that.

This story came to mind while I was stressing about one manuscript I had yet to finish. I had restarted it three or four times, but never completed it for one embarrassing reason –  I didn’t know how to write a rough draft. Not really.

A rough draft is suppose to be just that, rough. It’s meant to have phrases you aren’t sure how to complete, scenes that feel off, characters that feel flat, plot holes so big you could fall into them. I was looking at my unfinished manuscript as “messy” and instead of allowing myself to make a mess sketching out the basic lines of the story, I was trying to skip ahead and get a finish product my first time through.

Impossible.

The first draft gives us, as the writer, a chance to discover the story ourselves. This is true whether you plot out your stories beforehand or not – there will always be aspects to your plot and your character you’ll be discovering for the first time. Pausing to edit and perfect during the rough draft shuts off the pure artistic flow that comes when a writer is in the “zone.” Write now… only write. Edit later.

For you visual learners, like me, let’s look at the idea this way.

Images from www.metmuseum.org
Raphaël_-_Étude_Madone_d'Albe_1
Raphael’s paintings started as sketches, like our rough drafts.
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With edits, he cleaned up the image, adding more detail and life to it.
madonna sketch
More edits still, and you can see how his piece is shaping in to what it will become.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.

Lois Lowry, the author of “The Giver” said when she writes a rough draft that she often scribbles down a variety of words that might fit in a certain sentence and goes back to find the right one during the editing process. I think that’s brilliant. She gets her thoughts on paper, but waits to polish it up once the story is ready for that step. Not before.

So, to all you other perfectionist writers, I encourage you to let go and let your rough drafts be messy. Very, very messy. Stop worrying about that flat character, or that scene that just doesn’t feel right. First get your story on paper – the whole, messy story. Then, and only then, go back and work that sketch into the masterpiece in your head.

What’s the trickiest part of the writing process for you?

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Book Review: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum_(Henkes_book)

I stumbled on this little gem entirely by accident. I was at my mother in-laws house digging through her childrens book for a bedtime story to read my kids. This cover was bright and cute so I picked it (who says kids are the only ones that pick books based on covers?). Instantly I was in love. My poor children had to put up with me asking if I could read it to them over and over. I even snuck it back to my room and read the book a couple more times while they were napping. It’s that delightful.

Synopsis:  A little mouse name Chrysanthemum LOVES her unique name, until she starts school. At school the children tease her because she’s named after a flower and her name is so long “it scarcely fits on a name tag.” Every night Chrysanthemum’s parents have to buoy her up with praise, Parcheesi and chocolate cake. Things turn around when her class meets the pregnant music teacher, Ms. Delphinium Twinkle (who just happens to also be named after a flower and has a name that scarcely fits on a name tag). The children idealize Ms.Twinkle and the teasing turns to praise. The books ends with Ms. Twinkle having her baby and naming her Chrysanthemum.

MusicTeacher

Here’s what entranced me:

THE LANGUAGE:

This is a phenomenal read-a-loud book. The words skip along with sing-song fluidity. You feel her excitement, worry, relief, right along with her. While many of the words are too difficult for younger readers to read on their own, it is written in a context that make perfect sense to them when read aloud.

THE ILLUSTRATIONS:

I love Kevin Henkes little mice. They’re  brightly colored and whimsical – very unique to him. In Chrysathemum he does a wonderful job showing the untold story in the art work. Pay close attention to the illustrations with her parents – such funny details added her and there.

BEST FOR AGES 3-8 – but geez, I’m over thirty and still love it.

BUY IT OR BORROW IT?  This is a buy it book! Totally worth the investment.

Have you read Chyrsathemum?  Tell us what you think of it.

Interview with a… character

Interview with a character

Fictional writers are crazy (someone back me up here). We hear voices in our heads – they tell us their stories and we write those stories down. That’s crazy at its finest, people! So, when my head is occupied by a character that won’t leave me be it seems only right to try and get to know them. I do it by interviewing them. Yup, just me, my laptop and that squatter in my head – having a little chat. Here’s the questions I like to ask.

CHARACTER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

1. What’s your name?

2. How old are you?

3. What do you look like?

4. Do you have any friends?

5. What about family? Tell me about them.

6. Do you like to try new things?

7. Are you shy?

8. What scares you?

9. What makes you angry?

10. What do you do when you’re angry?

11. What’s your biggest secret?

12. Any hidden talents?

13. Who do you long for?

14. Have you ever been in love?

15. What are you most proud of?

When I interview my characters I let the voice in my head ramble, writing down every word. Their answers are eye opening! Some of the characters aren’t talkers, so their answers are short. Some ramble on for ever. Some are sarcastic and you can hear that in their replies. Others are serious and straightforward. I even find that as the character unfolds for me through these questions, I add on other questions – like “tell me about where you’re from” (especially for my fantasy characters). Or for my school based characters, I like to ask them about school.

These questions are really just a springboard to get the conversation started. They help me get to know my characters more intricately so I can write them in better detail, making them fuller and richer than they would have been otherwise.

Now it’s time to interview you  -your answers can go in the comments below 😉       So… tell me how you get to know the characters living in your head? What’s your method?

Want some other interview ideas? Try these sites:

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