Saturday, March 8, 2014

Skeletons, Blog Design, and A British Holiday

(By the time some of you read this post, you will be looking at a new blog design. I thought you might like to know. It's pretty fabulous, isn't it? I think so. And now there's a button you can take! Hrar-hrar.)

Once upon a time, I was a young and naive writer and my brain was full of stories. By stories, I mean little, episodic pieces of stories that I was fond of mincing up and packing together into an odd sort of SPAM that I was also fond of calling a novel. Then I began to learn about plotting and how you can't exactly write episodic hash and call it literature.

I used to pride myself on not having to edit so terribly much between versions of a given book. Let that sink in for a moment. I'm not exactly certain what sort of book I thought I had written, or what sort of genius I considered myself. Probably a cross between a child protege and Mark Twain. Suffice it to say, most versions of my books (plot-wise) looked exactly the same from one to the next, and I was quite happy with that. Perhaps I was dealing with such simple plots that they didn't need much work. Or maybe I just had that joyful assurance born of never having experience writer's block.

Now, though, I've realized that the first draft is a skeleton. Dear mercy me, it's just a bag of bones. Halfway through writing Anon, Sir, Anon, I had a slight moment of panic as I realized that I would not ace this book on the first draft. I know for most of you, that's a silly admittance. Of course you can't win laurels on the first draft of the first novel you've written in a given genre. I've never written a mystery before and I could tell that there were gaps in the plot that will need to be filled in. Usually, this would cause me to panic and decide this story was terrible. But just about this halfway point, I began to look at my story like a skeleton and I knew it was perfectly normal to slightly freak out, and that I could go on:
The first draft is the frame of the thing. When you build a house, you begin with the footer and build up to the framing. Eventually you sheath the house, and at that point you've got a house, all right. It just doesn't look like much but a cardboard pop-up of a gingerbread cottage. The first draft of a story is just like a gingerbread cottage. In subsequent rounds, you'll need to add siding, and flashing, and shingles and porches to the outside. You'll have to run electricity and plumbing and then insulation and sheet-rock and then paint and put in all your appliances and cabinets and tile and carpet and wood-flooring and hang all your doors and put in all your windows and build a deck and cut vent holes and install all the lighting apparatuses. If you're really good, you'll even install hose-bibs, outdoor electricity, and landscaping. Do you know how many doorknobs there are to install in a house? Until you've built a house, you won't realize all that goes into it after it already looks like a house from the road.
In the first draft of any book, we've built that house on the road that looks finished. But as the author, we can give ourselves room to realize that there will be several more months of work to fix plumbing, install electricity, and make the place livable.
This the great joy of multiple drafts. I have given myself license to write a skeleton this time, rather than a full-fleshed novel. That being said, I'm nearing the end of the first draft of Anon, Sir, Anon. My goal for this week is going to be to finish that first draft. Starting Monday, I'll be doing a March Madness challenge to finish it up and count it "finished" (from the road). That may or may not leave room for much blogging, but it will certainly be fun for me! I will endeavor to keep you updated with my word-counts, snippets from scenes, and my progress. I am looking forward eagerly to the second draft in which I'll add more description, refine dialogue, expand characters, etc. This is a different method than that I've used before, but it feels like a good fit. Since I tend to be a "pantser" and not so much of a plotter, I can get panicked over not knowing what is next in my book. Writing a skeletal first draft means that I have the plot tacked down, the characters mostly developed, and I know a start, a middle, and an end. I'm eager to begin to deepen shadows, bring out highlights, and work this story till it's completely different than its skeleton. But first things first: I've got to see the first draft through to the end.

For those of you who have purchased/won and read Fly Away Home, I would love to hear what your favorite quotes/parts were. If you so desire, you can email your favorite parts to me at, or add them to the Goodreads page! I love quotes and have always enjoyed hearing what lines/turns of phrase capture other people. Also, I wanted to tell you about a fabulous reader of mine, Ness Kingsley. Ness is a fairly new blogging friend, but she knows me well enough to know that I adore all things English. She is also aware of my mania for the Lake District. Well. Ness, being the clever, sweet thing that she is, knew she was headed to the Peaks District (not quite the Lakes, but still gorgeous) and decided to bring Fly Away Home along with her so that a part of me would have been to the place to which I feel such a deep connection. She photographed it with herself, some goats, and even on a lovely old stone wall:

I probably needn't even tell you how much this made my day. Ness, thanks a mil for your thoughtfulness, and for obliging my silly whims by carting a piece of me all through your lovely Isle. <3

Well. Le Brother is here for the weekend and I am supposed to be helping to organize a fundraiser for our Romanian Missions Trip (read more about it here) for tonight so ciao! I shall keep you updated on my Mad Marchishness later on in the fresh, new week!


Abby said...

Such a lovely new look! I like the little hedgehog with the blue balloon.
I am ashamed to say that none of the stories I have started have even made it to the first draft. Almost none, anyway. I don't know what it is. :P

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Love the button! I should alert you, though, there's a typo in the code (the link says inpenauthoress instead of inkpen). The new design looks lovely. If I could make one little suggestion...the grey-on-white post font is rough on the eyes.

Your take on first drafts makes me feel a little better. I've been feeling guilty all through working on The Summer Country because I think my chapters are too short—I have to keep reminding myself I can fill them out on the next go-round.

Esther Brooksmith (wisdomcreates) said...

The Skeleton post was so inspiring that I linked to it in a blog post (that will be posted later this week).
And I love the picture of your book going fun places. That was so thoughtful. It is like "flat Stanley" in a book version. :)

Rachel Heffington said...

Abby: Keep plugging away at it. Finishing a first draft of a first story is a feeling worth fighting for.
Elisabeth: Thanks so much for catching that blip! I've fixed it, and I am working on changing the page color, as I agree about it being hard to read; it looked darker on my laptop screen. :P

Unknown said...

Love. The. New. Look!! It's cute and sooo *you*!

I'm headed over the the quote page to post a couple of my favorite quotes. :-)

C said...

Really jolly new blog design! I really enjoy seeing other's design aspirations for their blog come to life, as yours has. Everything is so organized. And the header--eee, the best!