Behind the Scenes: The First Draft

Trying to Get It Right The First Time I Write It

I can’t speak for other authors, but I hate rewrites and lengthy revisions.  I’m not a big fan of inserting scenes after I finish a book, so I’ve learned it’s easier to add too much in the first draft and simply hit the delete key later.  For Bride of Second Chances, I got enough feedback from people, particularly my editor, who suggested doing more of a build up from the heroine’s point of view so when the hero surprised her by moving their relationship to an intimate level, it wouldn’t be that “much of a surprise”.  I remember sitting at my computer with what I thought was the final second draft, and I had to go add a whole other chapter to the book.  I admit the book is better for it, but I’ll also admit I hated adding it because the book wasn’t truly “finished” where all that was needed was my proofreader to jump in and polish it up.

So I learned something about myself and the first draft.  I want the first draft to pretty much look like the published version of my book.  I have little tolerance for adding scenes and no tolerance for rewriting anything.  Some might say I’m a lazy writer because of this, but from my viewpoint, I consider it a cautious writer.

I’ve held off on writing for a couple of days if I suspect I’ll be writing a scene half-heartedly or if I suspect I’ll rush something when it should be fleshed out.  A friend did suggest writing a future scene if I get stuck and can’t make my daily word count goal.  I did do this in Shotgun Groom on one of the days last week when I got stuck, but I was only able to do it because I was comfortable enough with the story that I knew I could keep the scene in.  Which leads me to…

Planning the Scene vs. Writing It 

Granted, I don’t outline, but I will periodically plan out upcoming scenes when I’m not writing.  Sometimes the planned out scene turns out the same as on the screen when I’m typing, and sometimes what I actually write looks nothing at all like what I planned.  For example, in Shotgun Groom, I had scenes planned out that would have made the book a comedy.

One scene in particular was when Dave, Tom, and Richard came out to April’s house to find out what was going on since he hadn’t returned to town.  At this point in the story, Joel had already been forced at gunpoint to marry April (who held the gun in the “planned” version because she was all for the marriage).  Well, Joel was supposed to ask his brothers to help him get out of there because his new wife was trying to keep him bound to the marriage.  “It’s awful.  I’m being tortured over here,” Joel was supposed to say.  “She cooks for me, compliments me, and even tries to have sex with me.” At this point, his brothers were supposed to roll their eyes and leave.

But as I wrote chapter 2, I realized the above would never happen.  The book had taken a very serious turn, and Sep (who was supposed to be twelve in the original version became a fourteen) was the one who forced the marriage.  So this set up a dynamo effect which resulted in April not being all complimentary and she really doesn’t want sex, but her reasons for not wanting sex stem from her first marriage.  So April is coming to this book with a huge backstory (and it’s not pleasant), but it’s her backstory that has to be there in order for the whole forced marriage to make the most sense.  And this is why the book is not a comedy anymore.

Avoiding the Sagging Middle

I think the nemesis of any author is the sagging middle.  Every scene should advance the plot.  There should be no mindless conversations that tell the reader nothing new, and there shouldn’t be endless description and/or action which ends up being a reader’s waste of time.  In every scene, be it description, action, or dialogue, there has to be a point to it or else there is the tendency for the reader to skim.  I skim 90% of the fiction titles I read, and it’s typically in the middle where this happens.  So I do everything I can to avoid wanting to skim my own work.  If I find myself getting bored as I type or read through my first draft, I take the scene out.  Some authors and publishers get so hung up on making a certain word count that they put in these filler scenes.  One advantage to self-publishing is that I never had to write more in order to satisfy my publisher.  Publishers need a certain word count in order to sell at a certain price.  I know of an author where I live who had to meet a 100K word count for her publisher, so she did and a friend who read her book said the middle sagged.  Well, that’s why sagging middles exist.  Authors and/or publishers are trying to bulk up the book so it’s longer than it should be.   I’d rather read a 50,000 word novel that has me glued to every word (and makes me a part of the story) than an 80,000 word novel that sags and I end up skimming through in order to get to the good parts.

So while I try to avoid the sagging middle, I also try to maintain my daily word count goal.  My hope is to reach the daily goal 90% of the time.  I’m fine if I missed a few days.  Life does happen, after all.  Now, the good news is once I hit the 1/3 or so mark of the book (about 25,000 words in), I can gauge where I’m going, so writing scenes ahead of time is easier.  So when I notice that I’m not sure how to bridge point A to point B, I’ll write point B first and then go back to add in the bridge.  But since I hate rewriting and adding scenes, I have to make sure I know where the book is going.  So like I said, I’m a cautious writer.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to or check out
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2 Responses to Behind the Scenes: The First Draft

  1. Rose Gordon says:

    I agree with your post so much it’s sickening! LOL

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