Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Win CampNaNoWriMo in 14 Days: Sparse Draft

Here's a confession: I've never joined NaNo or its official branch-outs. This July, I tried Camp NaNo out, and finished in 14 days!
After writing, revising, rewriting, revising, and editing my last project, I've come to learn that I have a few main weaknesses:
  • confidence in that most of the story won't change
  • inability to pin down character motivations in the first draft
  • trouble with plot structure and pacing
Additionally, most of my writing comes from me obsessively thinking about my idea, and then picturing snapshots or snippets of scenes in my head. And so here's my idea to draft my new project in Camp NaNo:

Sparse draft: a draft composed mainly of dialogue and character interactions, with minimal description or words in general. Often includes excessive square brackets indicating changes to be made.


What sparse drafting allowed me to do:


This draft is only about 40K compared to a projected 90K of the final draft. Basically I spilled ink all over the virtual page. So basically, the first upside is that I'm free-wrote really really quickly. If I know a scene needs to exist but it's not in my head, I leave a note in square brackets and move on. If I can't figure out the chinks in this scene, I leave a note in square brackets and move on. If I don't know what I'm doing, I leave a note ... yeah, you get the idea.

It'll also get rid of all the fluff and pretty metaphors that I'm rather fond of. I'm not saying I'll leave them out if they come to mind, but I'll do my utmost not to dwell on style at all. Sentence fragments, square brackets, even script-type dialogue — it doesn't matter. My job isn't even to get the words down, it's just to get the ideas down.

And the ideas that I have to get down? I made this list for myself:
  • plot events and general structure
  • dialogue
  • character goals and motivations
  • genre elements

What sparse drafting will stop me from doing:


All the things that I won't be focusing on:
  • character thoughts and characterisation thereof
  • writing style
  • worldbuilding
  • any sort of literary stuff
These are mainly things I've judged unimportant until I have the approximate novel down — I might not reintroduce them until I finish the second draft. A sparse draft stopped me missing the forest for the trees, and we can hammer it out from the panorama to the pixel.
My progress at myWriteClub. Find me at alyssacarlier!

The actual project I worked on:


Background by Jon Vlasach (x)
Matryoshka: a story set in the same world as the now-shelved Shadowplay, eight years after the events of that project. In a nutshell, it's a novel about:
  • Thomas, the bastard son of a now-dead rebel leader, returned to take revenge on his father's nemesis after eight years in exile;
  • Kim, the right-hand woman of said nemesis, sworn to enforce law and order in the country but with a soft spot for revolutionaries;
  • Alisaria, a scholar of an institution that's just invented gunpowder, tasked by said institution to return to her home country and depose the somewhat autocratic ruler;
  • and what's really frightening is that it's smack in the middle of a "dead" genre: YA dystopian.
You could see me plan in my #WatchMeWrite, and stay tuned for up-close looks at excerpts this Saturday and in July's #WatchMeWrite. And stay updated on my process by reading monthly letters from me to you!

Thoughts on my process? On my novel idea? The comments are yours!


Share my Camp NaNo love on Twitter:

28 comments:

  1. First of all, a big congratulations to you, Alyssa! *showers you with confetti and cake* I'm still plugging away at my Camp NaNo novel right now. I went much faster last Camp NaNo, but I'm still happy with my pace. I think this is an interesting way of drafting. I'm not sure if it would work for me, but I think it's a great idea to just get the bare bones of a story down before editing so that you have something that you can really work with. I love to plot out my stories beforehand, which also leads to me having a preference towards trying to get as much in the first draft as I can. Otherwise, I just end up with an overwhelming mess that makes revision much scarier. However, when it comes to revising, I definitely break it down into steps and focus on one aspect for each readthrough. Still, I just might try this bare bones drafting technique someday. Thanks for sharing your secrets! Also, Matryoshka sounds awesome.

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    1. Thank you, Ana! *twirls in confetti and eats cake* You're making amazing progress on myWriteClub, so keep going! *waves pom-poms* Mmm, yes, at one point I just got tired of writing so many words I would delete so I devised this method.

      I can definitely see where you're coming from when you try to include more in the first draft -- revisions does feel scary when I'm looking at this hot steaming mess. Readthroughs are definitely the way to go for revisions. And thank you for your kind words!

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  2. I like this! You've really thought this through to see what works best for you.

    I'm kind of the opposite. I do nothing sparse. Anything and everything that I'm thinking goes on the page. Whatever I'm trying to say, I might say it three different ways because I'm not sure how to go about it. I draft big and than pull out the drivel later. That way everything is there.

    I do that the brackets, note-to-self thing a lot too. If I know my dialogue/internal thought is not worded true to the character, I'll make a note. "Not the way Oddball would say it, reword." Or something like that. If I know I've got to much description, I'll make a note, "Pick one/cut down." I try not to stop and edit. That used to be my biggest downfall during the first draft process.

    Also, if a scene comes to me out of order. Then I write it anyways. Because if I don't, I'll lose it. Copy and Paste/Cut and Paste is so handy. :P

    Your book sounds awesome! I like Kim. How she's in law enforcement and yet has a soft spot for revolutionaries. Aka rebels, aka people who are likely to break the laws she's supposed to be enforcing. I love irony. :D (And who cares about "dead" genres, you can revive it. ;) )

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    1. Thank you, Ashley! I do leave notes here and there when random ideas come to my head, and when I tried out Write to Die I literally just repeated the same idea just to stop the red light and the beeping, ahaha. I don't write scenes out of order, but I do make notes on major elements of what a future scene has.

      I'm so happy you like Kim! She's my fav character, and it *shows*. Irony is the best, and so are the undead. *nodnod*

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  3. *squints suspiciously* THAT is sparse drafting? That is long. I've been learning that if I don't start sparsely I never really finish my drafts... So my last few novels have all started out at like, 15,000 words. 40,000 words seems huge, comparatively! But I am hung up on semantics here when the point is that you have conquered your goals, so congrats and top hats and baseball bats, etcetera.

    Although, you didn't say outright—do you feel like the sparse drafting helped, and you're willing to do it again? If so, I hope the tactic continues to be profitable for you! Also, Matryoshka sounds interesting and reminds me of mothers. That is all.

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    1. I used to OVER-write, you know? For a novel that ended up 100K, its first draft was 140K long. So underwriting is such a new experience, although you clearly take it to a new and wonderful extreme. Thank you, although I'm certain baseball is too American.

      I'm definitely doing it again! And Matryoshka is definitely about the matriarchs, so you're not wrong :P

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    2. Oooh, I see. That's kind of insanity. I don't think I've ever over-written anything longer than a blog post. And hey—flag football wasn't going to rhyme, and I had to do it.

      Oh, that's good! I look forward to hearing more progress updates as you go alone. :D

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    3. *hops in ridiculously late* I don't know how I missed this. Hehe, I have the exact opposite issue -- I keep feeling like my blog posts are too short and insubstantial. And, well, you have a point there. Rhyming rules.

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  4. Hey, congrats on finishing Matroyshka. (More like !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, honestly. Also BARBARA KIM HI HELLO.) I'm pretty sure you already know HOW DEEPLY I AM INVESTED IN THIS OMG.

    I've actually never heard of this super-sparse drafting technique, but it looks amazing and I want to try it with a future project. (Hmm, maybe the Red Riding Hood retelling. Or the Emperor's Nightingale retelling. Or the roses + conquering + diversity high fantasy. SO MANY OPTIONS.) I've been working on OtMS for over two years now, and it does seem like I have a problem with finishing things. So many thanks for the tip!

    PS: I think I remember Alisaria from Shadowplay—remember LOVING her, to be more specific—so it's very cool that she pops up again!

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    1. Thank you! (That is basically my reaction too, with more exhaustion. I'M SO EXCITED YOU'RE EXCITED SO LET'S JUST ALL BE EXCITED.

      I look forward to seeing the results! (Oh wow, that is a LOT of ideas. I BASICALLY WANT THEM ALL.) If you have issues with finishing, I do recommend this method because it's really extremely fast and requires much less agonising over words. Oh, and you should check out Ava Jae's most recent vlog too :)

      PS: *coughcough* I actually sort of merged her with her brother Alyn, so she's somewhat less morbid now. Maybe. Hopefully you'll still like her!

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  5. YAAAAY CONGRATS ON FINISHING YOUR BOOK!!! (And I love the description, it sounds absolutely fantastic. Maybe dystopian will come back?! MAYBE? Hopefully?!) And this is all fab advice, and probably I stick to a lot of this too. Sometimes I view my first drafts as a super detailed outline...and then all the other drafts are for adding in emotion and getting it to make sense and patching up the weird plot holes. I NEVER strive for perfection in a first draft. Nope. x)

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    1. THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I'm so happy it sounds interesting -- and yes, PLEASE, let dystopian come back. Wrapped as fantasy or scifi or whatever. And yes! In some ways this can be seen as a pantser's completely unplanned mess, or it could be a plotter's extremely detailed outline with many tentative elements. And argh, other drafts are making me so depressed right now.

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  6. Well done on finishing so quickly!! :)

    I've sen the square bracket thing somewhere before, and it sounds like a really cool way to write. I have everything in pieces in my head, and I struggle to link each idea together, so I might give it a go :)

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    1. Thank you, Opal! :D Square brackets are particularly handy because I can just Ctrl+F for them in revisions and revise that particular bit. I used [transition] so many times in this draft!

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  7. I had ABSOLUTELY no idea what a sparse draft is before I read your post. And then halfway through your post, I was all "Script! Script! Script!" Hehe. I remember writing drama scripts and really enjoying it when I was a younger (I sound old lol) and looking back now, I think I know why I enjoy it so much. Writing descriptions and using the right words are so NOT my forte, that's why :P . I would probably end up writing a novel solely made of dialogues if I start writing one day. (Also, picturing the scenes and laughing about it is the best thing to do.)
    It's so smart of you to think of a writing process that fits with your thought process so well ;). Also congratulations for finishing Camp NaNo in such a short time!

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    1. I sort of invented the term. It is very much like a script, except I have way more stage directions, I suppose you might call them, and I also have fake "dialogue" for thoughts. I don't really enjoy writing scripts, because I do love writing descriptions and such,

      Thank you for your kind words, Melody!

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  8. Sparse drafting sounds like such a neat idea--I'm super prone to getting bogged down in my first drafts, mostly by worrying about style and characterization and whether it's good enough--all things I'm not SUPPOSED to worry about in a first draft. Thanks for sharing your process; Matryoshka sounds like a wonderful story, and I hope to hear more about it soon!

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    1. If that's the case, I definitely recommend sparse drafting -- I hadn't realised how much time I spent agonising over minor things until I used this method and breezed through the novel. Thanks for dropping by!

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  9. Ahhh, congratulations on finishing so quickly - that's absolutely incredible, and I'm so proud of you for powering through it in 14 (!!) days. :D I find the idea of sparse drafting incredibly intriguing - I'm the kind of person who takes a long time with first drafts and succumbs to my perfectionist tendencies, but I think I might actually try this method to get rid of some of that. Thank you so much for sharing this - it's a lovely idea, and I think it will help quite a few people. <3

    (PS: received Dave + the alpha reader email - will reply ASAP!)

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    1. Thank you, Topaz! I've never finished a draft this quickly, although I know some people do it in a week (!!!!). This is definitely for the perfectionists who are willing to give up the perfectionism. Hope it works out well for you! :D

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  10. 14 days - now that's something. :') So it was Matryoshka that I got in my inbox? It's a lovely title for your novel, and I like the book cover as well!

    Sparse drafting sounds really good for people who focus on the forest instead of the trees. It's something I couldn't do as a perfectionist who has to get all the little details, but it's great that it worked for you!

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    1. Thank you, Jo! Yes it was indeed, and I'm so happy you like the cover -- I basically just fiddled around with the colour scheme of my blog XD Mmm, yes, it might not be right for people who like to get the details right on the first draft too, but so long as we end up with a good story! :D

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  11. WOW congratulations!! That is so fabulous! And I have to say, I LOVE this whole idea- I was so focused on writing a WHOLE BOOK in 30 days when I tried NaNo that I think I was overwhelmed. This could be my solution- so thank you thank you thank you! I really want to try NaNo again, get my blog scheduled in advance, so I can really put some effort into it, and I seriously think your idea is absolute genius.

    As for the story itself, I think it is fabulous! I have enjoyed reading about it so far, so I cannot wait for more. And for the record, I don't think dystopian is dead for good. I think it may be in a lull momentarily, and it may not be saturated again- but that's a good thing! That means that your GOOD book will actually have an impact! In fact, I think the "no more dystopian" thing is almost over. Other than The Book of Ivy, there really hasn't been a good one in awhile- we need yours!! :D

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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    1. Thank you, Shannon! And yeah, if you have lots of time it seems possible to write a whole novel, but really, it's all just word vomit to be revised later, so I figured I might cut down in the first draft. I really hope this drafting method works out for you!

      I'm so happy you've been enjoying the snippets and thoughts I've blogged so far. I also have faith in dystopian -- it'll probably resurface in other genres, and aww, thank you for having such faith in Thomas and the crew :D

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  12. Hmm... this is an interesting idea that I'll have to attempt. It could go wonderfully right or horribly wrong, but I guess I don't know until I try right? Especially considering that I seem to have many of the same problems/processes as you... I'll have to remember this when I'm writing the first draft of my next novel!

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    1. Mmm, yes -- I still worry it may make revisions an even worse headache, but AT LEAST I HAVE A FIRST DRAFT NOW. And yay, it's glad to know I'm not alone! Let me know how it works out :D

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  13. It's so awesome that you completed your first draft in fourteen days! I remember I wrote my first 20K of my second book in just seven days. I have never done anything CLOSE to that since *wistful sigh* I think it's because those boys were sitting in my head, waiting to get out, and they just kind of ... forced themselves onto the page.

    I like the idea of this sparse draft, though I could never do it myself. I'm much too attached to my prose as I'm writing things, and all my books (so far) are first person and quite emotional, too. So I wouldn't have much down in words, haha. I'm super happy that it's working for you, though!

    And as for your idea: it sounds awesome. It doesn't seem to fit into the YA dystopian box, and I think it could sit outside of it because it's all revenge and assassinations and whatnot! I would definitely read it :D

    Good luck with fleshing this one out, Alyssa!

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    1. That is more or less the same speed as I did -- and I was in the exact same situation for this ms! The idea was stewing for so long I had a lot of material in my head already.

      I'm also super attached to prose, but I'm resigning myself to edit it in the second draft. I do see how it could be more complicated for first person, though -- whatever works for you! :D

      I *may* frame it as something else, because even though I can tick all the boxes of dystopian, the atmosphere and mood and style is quite different. And aww, thank you! That's the highest praise I could imagine.

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