Three Alternative Drafting Techniques for Fiction Writers
Finding your personal writing process is essential to building a writing life you love.
Without knowing which techniques help you create your best work, you’ll struggle to get your stories down on the page. But every writer’s process is unique. The methods that work well for one writer won’t necessarily work for you. That’s why it’s vital you discover your unique writing process, including the method that helps you craft your best first drafts.
Traditionally, writers outline their stories, then use that outline to guide them as they draft their idea in full. But what if this method doesn’t work well for you? Good news! Today, I’m sharing three alternative drafting techniques that might just revolutionize your writing process. Let’s break them down together.
Technique #1: Blocking Scenes with a Draft Zero
If you often draft your stories in full, only to overhaul them when you revise, it might be time to find a new drafting method that doesn’t lead to so many words on the cutting-room floor. Creating a draft zero (also called a skeleton draft) is a technique worth exploring.
With a draft zero, you don’t draft a story in full. Instead, you write a draft that blocks the major beats in each scene. No need for beautiful prose or full description. You simply state what will occur in each scene so you can later review and refine your plot before fleshing out your story in full.
A draft zero might look like the following example:
“Marty walks through town, lost in thought as he mourns his breakup with Ariella. A shop door hits him in the face. The woman who opened the door apologizes profusely. Marty realizes the woman is Tam, his best friend from high school. Tam smiles before saying hello. Marty fumbles over his words. Tam invites Marty for a drink to catch up.”
Some writers think of draft zeroes as extended outlines. In fact, I didn’t know my latest 10,000-word novel outline qualified as a draft zero until encountering the term earlier this year. I now plan to use this technique for every novel I write.
Technique #2: Discovery Drafting
If your first drafts often diverge from the outlines you create, you might benefit from a drafting process that doesn’t hinge upon pre-written ideas. Allow me, then, to introduce you to discovery drafting.
Writers who choose this method want the creative rush that comes with allowing a story to unfold organically as they write. No outline. No restrictions. No bare-bones writing. They go all in, drafting their stories in full without a plan in place. Creative freedom, here they come!
Interested in this method? Here’s an example of a passage from a discovery draft:
“The sidewalk beneath his feet is clean. Too clean. He’s used to sidewalks spider-webbed with cracks and blotched with wads of old, blackened gum. Sidewalks that he once walked for hours, arm in arm with Ariella. He remembered tripping once, so lost in the feel of her skin that he didn’t notice the jutting sidewalk block. Heat flushed through him as he barely kept his footing, but Ariella’s laugh kept embarrassment at bay. It was a sound so bright, so full of reckless joy, that he beamed and touched her hip and pulled her close to kiss her, as if he could swallow that sound, let it bubble up inside him, let it make him feel light and free and whole.”
When writing this passage, I didn’t focus on creating a clean, well-written draft. Instead, I wrote freely, letting the story play out as my imagination prompted.
Discovery drafting can result in the need for extensive revisions since the story isn’t pre-planned. But with a strong understanding of story structure and character development, a writer can produce a relatively clean and cohesive first draft regardless of the free-flowing nature of this drafting technique.
Technique #3: Fast-Drafting
If you don’t enjoy the drafting process and would rather spend your time pre-writing or revising, then it’s time we talked about fast-drafting (one of my personal favorite writing techniques).
The purpose of a fast-draft is to get a story down on paper as quickly as possible. No need to worry about the quality of your writing. You’re going to edit it later. You simply want to draft as fast as you can, saving the bulk of your energy for the parts of the writing process you enjoy.
Most writers who fast-draft first complete extensive pre-writing. Some, like myself, even block their stories with a draft zero before writing their stories in full. This extensive pre-writing work allows you to draft faster because you always know exactly what you need to write next.
Here’s an example of a passage that I fast-drafted:
“Marty walks down the sidewalk, his shoes scraping again the pavement. He’s too tired to pick up his feet, too tired to do much of anything but find his way home and lock himself in his apartment and drown himself in whatever alcohol he had stocked for some special block party of birthday. He wants to stop thinking about Ariella about her kiss, her touch, her vibrant laugh that always left hi so damn happy.”
Notice the spelling and grammar mistakes in this example, as well as the poor sentence structure. I didn’t intend for this paragraph to be pretty. I wanted it written, so I typed as quickly as I could without fixing mistakes or rewriting ideas. If this passage were from a novel, I would definitely revise it later.
If you’re wondering if fast-drafting is right for you, click here to read a full blog post on the subject.
Do any of these drafting techniques seem like they might align with your creative process? Or are you happy with the more traditional method of writing a complete first draft at a measured pace? No matter your technique of choice, if it helps you craft your best stories, then it’s the right technique for you.
That said, don’t hesitate to explore new methods if any part of your writing process no longer serves your needs. Discovering the most effective tools and techniques can take time. But you’ll gain that time back tenfold when you nail down a writing process that allows you to create with confidence and ease.