scrawling a short story

Scrawling a Short Story: Part II, The Desolation of Drafts

First drafts suck and there are no exceptions. I’ve read that these days Stephen King pens only a single draft that is edited a couple of times before it hits the printers. While I do not believe the validity of this statement, even if it is true, I would never endorse such wayward behaviour. Remember, Stephen King has written over 200 stories, and even if his process has grown lax of late, more than a couple of them still suck. I wonder how long he spent on Lisey’s Story? I bet it wasn’t long.

I believe a first draft is something altogether terrifying, mystic, and beautiful beyond on any spectrum. It is an opportunity for a writer to go nuts; to weave convoluted metaphors that would never go to print; to act a bit careless with colourful dialogue; to experiment with character actions and motivations; to do things an editor would likely frown upon, without any repercussion. And if something doesn’t work? Who gives a fuck? It’s a first draft, just keep on writing until it all comes together! It’s also really the only time you have an excuse to say “I’ll fix it later” without sounding lackadaisical. How awesome is that?

As I showed in my previous edition of Scrawling a Short Story, my first draft of Prime Mover was nothing special: A page of messy handwriting and disconnected ideas on the rear-side of an invoice.

Draft (Front)

Some might even argue that this doesn’t classify as a draft, and I’d probably agree. “Proto-draft” might be more appropriate, yet my point still stands. It sucks.

The idea is great, and the thematic elements perfectly align with the final product. Some of the prose is even preserved, such as an overview of Ralph’s prodigious delivery history, yet does this proto-draft have any business in a published medium? While the story and a few ancillary details remain the same, virtually nothing about the final execution matches the initial messy scrawl. And there is a reason for this.

One of the details that is noticeably lacking from the proto-draft is the model of Ralph’s truck. In Prime Mover it is a Kenworth, yet the proto-draft boasts nothing more than a lonely, empty line where the name of the model should be. I find this poignant. Why the line? Why not simply name any model of truck? Even if it isn’t a great choice, surely it can be changed later?

True. It can be changed later, and that isn’t the problem. When I was pumping out the proto-draft, I had a salient image in my head of Ralph’s truck. Something tall and proud, almost like an effigy of sorts. I always wanted the truck to be a character onto itself—which is even more evident in the intermediary drafts—and while I knew exactly what she embodied, I couldn’t immediately verbalise those thoughts, not to the extent of jotting down the name of a model. I left a vacant space there because I didn’t want to waste time flicking through my mental index of trucks until I found the right one, or even more calamitously, wasting time on the internet, browsing for pitch-perfect solutions. If I’d stopped to figure out the finer details at such an early stage, I probably never would have finished.

It’s a great allegory for any draft: It doesn’t matter if it sucks—it doesn’t matter if elements are lacking or even missing—the only thing that does matter is getting it done. An empty canvas is nothing but a lack of content and a deficit of tangible ideas. As long as there’s something there, no matter how bare, it can be moulded into something magnificent.

There’s no limit on how many drafts it takes to produce something worthwhile, which means you have all the time in the world to fix the failings of early attempts. If you sit there and wait for perfection, however, it will never come. Don’t obsess over minute details, they can be patched in later. Just write. That’s all it takes.

Stayed tuned—I really don’t know if that metaphor applies anymore, but you know what I mean—for the third entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It won’t be as big of a gap this time, I promise. Things are finally on track over here, and you should be seeing a lot more content over the coming weeks and months. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.

 

Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,

Kev

scrawling a short story

Scrawling a Short Story: Part I, An Unexpected Beginning

If there’s only one question I see more than “How do I write?” it is: “How do I keep writing?” I would like to preface this blog by saying I do not possess the definitive answer to this question, because there is no answer. Every writer will have a different experience, and no amount of goodwill preaching can crack the quantum code. Don’t listen to those overly-charismatic e-commercials that promise to make you the next Stephen King with This One Simple Trick! Writing has always been a journey of discovery, and if you press forward long enough, in the end you’ll find something magical. My only hard advice is to keep writing, no matter how hard it might seem, and do not be thwarted by a lack of immediate success: a small success should still be seen as a success.

With that being said, today I’m going to introduce the first in a series of blogs where I intend to detail the process of writing my latest short story, Prime Mover. From its initial conception, to the drafting process, to finally publishing it on a very poignant day, it is my intention to offer some insight into the life-cycle of a short story. This is not a How To Guide or a Writing Short Stories For Dummies book. Remember, if you want to write, then write. Nothing I say is going to make you want to pick up your pen. This blog series is more of an exposé; a chronicle of the process, which is more educational than instructional. At the very least, there will be a few cool tidbits along the way, so I hope you’ll join me.

If you haven’t read Prime Mover, I won’t spoil too much. It’s not mandatory—this isn’t Short Stories 101, there are no textbooks, nor a final exam—but I encourage you to give it a read just the same. If you email me and cite this blog, I’ll happily send you a complimentary copy. How’s that for a good deal?

For those of you who have read Prime Mover, you’ll know that it begins as a relatively grounded story, and becomes more and more incongruous as the narrative progresses. This is a great metaphor for the writing process, which always has humble beginnings before it pirouettes out of control and becomes nothing like you originally conceived. All of the best stories grow organically. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan ahead, but you should always allow the characters and events to come alive and sway your hand, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

The following picture is the hand-written first page of Prime Mover:

Draft (Front)

And the back of the page for proof:

Draft (Back)

For those of you who don’t know, for my day job—which is actually done at night—I work as the manager of a small logistics company, delivering newspapers. The first embodiment of Prime Mover was scrawled on the morning of Wednesday, 11th February, 2015, on the back of the previous day’s invoice for my Daily Telegraph delivery pallet. I can’t exactly say why inspiration struck at that particular time, except that I had nothing else to do. This is by no means my normal modus operandi. I usually do my best thinking when I pace around my office, but for some reason, my inner-voice spoke to me that morning.

I’ll transcribe the page for those who can’t read my hasty penmanship:

Ralph Mortimer had clocked over 1.5 Million kilometres in his ________ truck, and she sailed the bitumen roads as if she was only a week off the lot. Nineteen years it had been. Nineteen years of pallet-drops, poultry, pig faces, newspapers—not for a good decade now though. He was one of the many blood cells of the Australian body, zipping to and fro along the spiderweb highways, hauling the weight of worlds for petty cash.

He picked up his last load on November 19th, at 2:16 from Chullora, and by the 6 o’clock news that night all of Australia knew his name.

Compare this to the opening paragraphs of the published version of Prime Mover:

In thirteen years, Ralph Mortimer had clocked over more than one million kilometres in his Kenworth prime mover. She was a twin-stack, blood-red, 15-tonne mistress, and he had spent more nights with her than his own wife.

Ralph had carted everything from company cargo; to live poultry; newspapers; furniture; even pallets stacked with pig faces and festering with maggots, due to be churned into gelatin and stuffed into roadside pies. He operated as an independent contractor, so when his services were required, he offered them without query or complaint. He was half-convinced the trailer he’d picked up from Wilcannia some years ago had been brimming with marijuana—the sweet aroma far too reminiscent of his misspent youth—but he hadn’t asked any questions, and his eventual fee had been handsome. So long as Ralph was paid his dues, he didn’t really care. Not too much.

Of course, there was the all-too-frequent bastard who cheated him out of more than a few bucks, and once in a while the man (or woman) he was working for would vanish, never to be heard from again. He had lost thousands in his time on the road, and there was shit all he could do about it. It was just the nature of the beast. You took the good with the bad, the bad with the ugly, then you got on with the job. That was all there was to it.

It’s amazing what two years and a dozen drafts can do, eh? As you can see though, while there are a lot of notable differences, the core of the narrative is still the same. I’ve taken the brief bouts of exposition from the first draft and expounded upon them, giving depth and character to Ralph’s experiences.

I have a lot more to say about the changes therein, but I’ll save them for another blog, as they’re quite extensive and definitely warrant a more thorough examination than I can offer now.

I hope you enjoyed the first entry in Scrawling a Short Story! It’s great to be able to share this experience with you, and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.

 

Happy reading, happy writing, happy life,

Kev