New York Times  Bestselling Author

One Paragraph, Three Drafts

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I write many, many drafts as I work on a book. Recently, someone on Facebook asked writers to share different drafts of a single paragraph. I thought this would be an interesting exercise for me to share with you, my blog readers. I want to give credit to the Facebooker who suggested this, but I don’t recall who it was, so I hope that person will read this post and step forward. Until then, here are three drafts of the same paragraph of my work-in-progress, currently titled The Lies We Told. We are in Maya’s point of view here. I hope that seeing the first draft will encourage those of you who think you have to write something perfectly the first time!

Early Draft:

      A guy walked into the restaurant. She noticed him the second he walked in. there was something about him. the way he scanned the restaurant. unsmiling. a flare to his nostrils that reminded her of ___. His eyes came to rest on the two men at the table next to her and Adam’s he walked toward the table with a deliberate stride, and she watched him pull a gun from his jacket pocket and before she could scream or duck or even widen her eyes, he’d shot the man at the table in the head. Everyone screamed then. She had a lot of company.

————– 

Middle Draft:

      Adam said something to Brent and Rebecca, but I didn’t hear him. My gaze was on a man who had just walked into the restaurant. He was dark-haired, wearing a white t-shirt and beige pants and he stood in front of the door, looking from table to table. There was something about him that sent a shiver through me.

      He started walking toward us–or at least, I thought he was heading toward us. Then I saw that his gaze–his ice-blue eyes–was on the two men at the table adjacent to ours. Adam said something that must have been funny, because Brent and Rebecca both laughed, but I’d set down my fork and was beginning to tremble, my heart thudding beneath my breastbone.

     I knew how quickly these things could happen. He reached behind his back, then whipped his arm out straight, the gun a gray blur, and I saw the small symbol tattooed on his finger as as he pressed the trigger.

————– 

Final Draft:

       Adam said something in response, but I didn’t hear him. I was watching a man who had just walked into the restaurant. He was Caucasian, dark-haired, wearing a white t-shirt and beige pants, and he stood in front of the door, shifting his gaze quickly from table to table. Something about him sent a shiver through me.

       He started walking toward us–or at least, I thought he was heading toward our table. His stride was deliberate, his nostrils flared. Then I saw that his eyes–his ice-blue eyes–were locked on the two men at the table in front of ours. Adam said something that must have been funny, because Brent and Rebecca both laughed, but I’d set down my spoon and was gripping the corner of the table, my heart thudding beneath my breastbone.

       I knew better than anyone how quickly these things could happen. He reached behind his back with his right hand, then whipped his arm out straight, the gun a gray blur as it cut through the air, and I saw the tattoo of a black star on his index finger as he pressed the trigger.

————–

Even as I look at the final draft of this paragraph, I see things I want to change. Imagine 400 pages of this! No wonder I’m so tired. My deadline is next week, so soon I’ll have to stop tinkering and send the finished product to my editor. For now, though, I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my world.   

       

10 Comments

  1. Mary on July 31, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Bless you, Diane! This was just what I needed to see to boost my confidence because I’m working through a very rough first draft. I actually love the revision process – the chance to refine my thoughts and play with the words – but first drafts are torture to me. I usually end up filling them with things like “maybe he’ll do this?” or “I’m thinking I need to find the reason she thinks…,” etc.
    Thank you!

  2. Julie on July 31, 2009 at 2:26 am

    It was me! Thanks for doing this. You can’t imagine how much better seeing the process like this makes me feel. ALSO gives me a better idea how to go about first drafts as I think I’ve worried over them far too much. Writing craft instruction focuses so much on the revising, and never really on HOW to write that ____ first draft! This is illuminating.
    The first paragraph is almost like a movie script, just the basics. Then the writer puts on the director hat, goes back to gather the props, create the set, and instruct the actors. Final take is the the camera work, catching all the sensory details. I feel as though a lightbulb just went on and the first draft of my new story can go a lot faster now.
    Something else fun … I was the one (or one of the ones) who suggested the solid black star for the finger tattoo!

  3. Margo on July 31, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Diane, I DID enjoy this peek into your writing world. My gosh, do most of your paragraphs take at least 3 efforts?…if so, no wonder it takes a year before another novel is released. I knew rewrites happened but I had no idea it was like this…it must drive you crazy thinking of how many different ways you could say something…you’re amazing!!
    I actually like paragraph 2 AND 3…how do you choose when several sound so good??

  4. Diane Chamberlain on July 31, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Mary, glad you find this helpful. I know many authors write brilliant first drafts. I’m not one of them (obviously!)
    Julie, I THOUGHT it was you, but couldn’t find that Facebook post, so was afraid to say till I was sure. Now I am. IT WAS JULIE’S IDEA. I’d forgotten you came up with the star,too. Girl, can you just move into my house so I can pick your brain on a regular basis??
    One thing to notice: the first draft was entirely in third person. I had to go through and change it all to first. I’m still catching “she” where it doesn’t belong.
    Margo, I do many more than three drafts, believe me. The first really is simply getting all the action down. Then I start to get to know the characters better and figure out how they’re feeling in the scene and how I can show rather than tell what they’re feeling (setting her spoon down and gripping the table). Research comes into play, too. They’re in a Brazilian restaurant and they’re eating dessert. My research suggested she’d be eating flan, because I wanted something blood would show up on (!), so in the second draft she sets down her FORK, in the third, when I knew she was eating flan, she sets down her SPOON.
    Speaking of revisions, I have plenty to do today, so I must get to them right now! Thanks again, Julie!

  5. Margo on July 31, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Diane, I’m absolutely in awe over this process…you must eat and sleep your work constantly!!…it is truly amazing. (-O:

  6. Julie on July 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Only if I can pick yours right back. But I eat a lot and make big messes and come with three kids and two pets. You might reconsider. 😉
    It was on Barbara Samuel’s request for blog ideas, so no wonder you didn’t find it!
    And I didn’t catch the POV change from 3rd to first as I read. How funny. I remember you talking about it in another blog post, though.

  7. Ingrid King on August 2, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I love watching the evolution of this paragraph – as always, it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into your creative process.
    I have to say, though, the photo you choose to go with this story is a little disturbing!

  8. Diane Chamberlain on August 2, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    It is, isn’t it? Now you know how my character feels!

  9. Jeff Roth on January 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I just wanted to say that I love the stories you’ve written here, especially w/the photograph. Best wishes for your writing career, although I don’t think you need wishes to succeed. As they say, you go girl!!
    (In case you’re interested in how broad your audience is, I’m a 64-year-old married man.)

    Jeff Roth

  10. […] As I did when I finished The Lies We Told, I thought I’d share a paragraph or two from the first draft […]

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