Advice to New Writers #3: Putting some Flesh on the Bones (Part 2 – Take it for a Walk)

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So where are we?

Have you found the idea, hunted it down, and then trapped it in some sort of high tech containment facility?

Check.

Have you allowed the idea to grow and develop a structure and some nice squishy fat over hard lean muscle?

Check.

Have you released the locks to the containment facility and taken the creature for a walk around the block?

No?

Well then now I know where we need to go. When the idea has reached its maximum size it is time to let it out and play with it. And when I say play with it I am not speaking of the “who-ha”, what I mean is that now you need to bust out the rough draft.

A lot of writers will tell you that you make your first edits after you finish the rough draft. That is a valid point of view because when you are writing the rough draft you are actually making physical cuts from the story. But I would suggest, and I do, that you are making mental edits from the second that you begin tapping the keys on your computer or when you put pen/pencil to paper.

Let’s go back to the idea as living creature idea.

When you open that cage and let the idea out it is at its fattest. The little guy is more blubber than muscle and that is a good thing, it gives you a broader canvass to work with. But unless you want the little guy to suffocate under its own sometimes considerable weight you need to start burning off mass immediately.

Translation

When you begin to write the rough draft you immediately begin to discard ides and threads from the story that have no real place in your narrative. Every writer does it whether they intend to or not. The purpose of the rough draft is to get as much of the idea transcribed and set into the framework that you have built for it. But not every part of the initial idea belongs in the rough draft.

That is not to say that once you cut the fat from the initial idea that it is dead and gone. I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of tidbits that have been culled from the initial ideas of other stories.

Let me give you an example from my own work.

When I first conceived the Shores of the Dead Series I envisioned Dawn of the Dead meets The Call of Cthulhu. In the end it has been described more as The Walking Dead meets The Stand and to be honest I am not complaining about that comparison in the least. Even as I was committing the initial idea to the page many of the Cthulhu and Dawn elements were falling by the wayside while other parts of the tale gained greater prominence and strength.

I know what you might want to scream at me right about now.

“This is all pretty much basic stuff Josh!”

I get that, but sometimes it’s the simple and obvious stuff that needs to be said. People assume that just because it seems obvious that everyone else already knows it and that it never needs to be said. Some of this is stuff I wish other writers had said to me when I started in the business.

In the end though your rough draft should be shot through with fat, it should be loaded like the tastiest piece of Kobe beef you’ve ever seen. Regardless of mental editing you need to try and get every bit of that idea through the initial filter in your mind and onto the page. It is the basis for everything that will come next.

You can grow it on the page.

You can cut it down with ruthless abandon.

But in the end your original idea and the rough draft that is born from it is the bedrock your work will be built on. It is the platform that it will stand on when you finally allow another human being to read it. If the foundation is shaky or incomplete it will all eventually come crashing down on you … or you will just have a shit story.

Either way, not a good position to find yourself in.

Well kids that was the easy part. You have the idea laid out in front of you, committed to the page. Now comes the hard part, the scary part, and the part that has been known to drive writers to the edge of insanity … and then right into the abyss below.

Now you have to show the rough draft to someone.

That is where we will pick this up next time. We will talk about if you SHOULD show your rough draft to others. And we will discuss how to handle the feedback if you do decide to share your newborn tale.

Alright my Minions, until next time have fun and keep writing!

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Josh Hilden

When I was born on August 3, 1976 in the great state of Michigan the hills shook and the sky was swept with fire. These were portents of the greatness for my future that was written in the stars ... I'm still waiting for that greatness. My name is Josh Hilden and I am many things. I am a husband, a father, a son, a friend. These are all important things but at my core I am an artist and the medium that I work in is words. I am a writer of Horror, Science Fiction, Drama, and Role Playing Games. I worked for Palladium Books (www.palladiumbooks.com) and Third Eye Games (www.thirdeyegames.net) before striking out on my own and founding a small press publishing company Gorillas with Scissors Press (www.gwspress.com). I also work for Fat Goblin Games (www.fatgoblingames.com). In the everyday world I can be found spending time with my family and friends. I have been married to my lovely wife Karen since 1996 and we have six amazing children. We tend to be a family of unabashed geeks and gamers who were geek before geek was chic. If you are really interested in me I am very active online with a personal and a writing blog along with a plethora of social media outlets. If you have any questions or just want to chat hit me up!