Mystery writer Sue Grafton has described her writing process as driving at night in fog: she can only see as far as the headlights. I can certainly relate; my discovery drafts are like driving cross country without an atlas or a particular route in mind. I know I’ve got to get from Alabama to San Francisco, but I’ll be damned if I know which roads I’ll take or where I’ll stop for the night. Driving or writing like this might seem a little dangerous.
Well, yeah…dangerously exciting.
But with only a destination in mind, I’m free to follow my instincts and listen to my gut. I can take the scenic route rather than the deadly dull interstate. I might run into some interesting characters along the way, and very often do. Sometimes they even try to take over and drive the car! By taking the unplanned path, I am more likely to stumble upon some nifty finds, like the tourist trap promoting a weredog whisperer, or Bubba’s Café where they serve a mean batch of fried zombie dee-light, or have a run-in with a kooky cult calling themselves The Church of the Blue Suede Shoes. I careen willy-nilly across the landscape of my imagination in search of a story with only my destination to guide me.
And yes, there are some downsides. I take wrong turns, come across road blocks and have to detour, sometimes lose my way or go round in circles. But the truth is this: I cannot outline beyond the beam of the car’s headlights in the fog.
But that’s my discovery draft process. After I’ve finished my road trip, I am now quite chummy with the original characters I set off with. Oh, sure, a few of them might have been left stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a hitchhiker taking their place. Someone in the back seat might now be next to me in the front seat, and the person riding shotgun might now be tied up in the trunk. One or two might have changed their names. But it’s all good.
With my motley crew assembled and a successful route discovered, my first revision is more like filling in the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I look at how all the pieces fit together and work together as both a whole and individually. It’s all got to add up to a coherent and interesting picture. This is the point where I actually make an outline so I’ll know where to add the missing bits.
My third revision is most like a sculptor working in clay. This is the point where I might add more clay on one side and shave off excess on the other. I carve in the little details that will enrich the final work. The clay is still soft and I can make any necessary changes to the piece that will benefit the whole. This is also the point in my process where I focus on style issues, such as sentence structure, word choices, spelling, grammar, typos, etc. Unless a writer’s discovery draft is stylistically rough, there’s no need to waste time correcting and improving style until the major story elements like plot, character, dialogue, pacing, and description are pretty well set.
So, road trip, puzzle pieces, and sculpting clay: they all add up to a finished, published piece, in this case, The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama.
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Susan Abel Sullivan lives in a Victorian house in northeastern Alabama with a husband, two dogs, and way too many cats. When not writing she likes to get her groove on by teaching Zumba classes. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop for speculative fiction. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous online and print publications, including Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, ASIM Best of Horror: Vol II, Beyond Centauri, New Myths, AlienSkin, and Writers' Journal. She is the author of The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama; Cursed: Wickedly Fun Stories, and Fried Zombie Dee-light: Ghoulish, Ghostly Tales. Visit her website at: http://susanabelsullivan.weebly.com/