Talk about revision-- I’m constantly revising my own opinions about the writing process. That’s kind of what this blog is for. It’s a place for me to think out loud. Maybe I should have called it that: thinking out loud. So here’s some more thinking out loud.
In the comments to last post someone wrote in a way that made me think they worried about having too much mess in a first draft, they worried about getting lost in the mess. That is definitely always a concern. I have to say that too much mess isn’t good. If your manuscript keeps breaking off into big lumpy sections and has no unifying forces holding it together, then you could end up with a draft that can’t be made to fit no matter how many times you revise it. Not good, of course.
I still think you must allow yourself to be messy in a first draft, but at the same time keep working to make it fit together. This will be imperfect and have places where you wander, but just working on it should help you avoid getting lost. I think that’s the main point. The manuscript will be vastly imperfect, but as long as it isn’t hopelessly fractured that’s okay.
Some things that might help: keep trying to figure out what characters want, keep trying to BE THERE in scenes, be open to changing directions, be open to back-tracking twenty or thirty pages if you feel like you’ve gone down a wrong path. Stay flexible.
I do think one of the easiest ways to get lost in a manuscript is to lose sight of a character’s problem or conflict (desire). Stories do have to be about something. If my character, Bubba, is a great guy except when eats peaches then I’ve got the start to a character and story. If Bubba, when he eats peaches, always gets violent and starts a fight with the biggest guy he can find then that’s a bit of development. If Bubba despises fighting but loves peaches so much he finds it hard to give them up, then I’ve got conflict. Bubba’s life is being destroyed by peaches. What can he do to save himself? Will his fetching new neighbor who makes apple pies be of any help? (Now you might be thinking to yourself, "Ah, that old story--the old guy who loves peaches too much meets the girl next store who bakes apple pies-- story." Well, yeah, but since most of us have somewhat similar experiences many of the real differences in our stories come from the way we tell them--our specific and unique way of seeing.) Characters need to desire something in a manuscript and things need to get in the way of that desire.
Anyway, messy in order to finish a draft is good. A manuscript that goes in so many directions it has no center, no heart, is one that might be a Humpty Dumpty situation: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…