My first drafts are always messy.
There are multiple kinds of writers in the world, but most of the time you can divide them into two groups: the writers who like to plan out their stories in detail, with outlines and guidelines and complete synopsis with bullet points included. “And here they will meet, and here they will kiss, and here they will be locked in a closet together during an air raid!”
And then there’s the writers who dive right into the story, without any idea of what’s happening and maybe only a dim idea of where they’re going. “It’s a romance, obviously there’s a happy ending – but how?!?!”
When I was younger, I definitely was more of the second type of writer. Now that I’m older (and have less free time), I absolutely see the benefits of the first. Take the book I wrote for this past year’s National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). I had only the barest of ideas for a plot, and so on November 1, I dove right in.
I ended up changing the plot and character’s backstories so many times in that first week – sometimes mid-sentence – that I’ve had to scrap nearly 15,000 words of the completed first draft just trying to get everything back in line.
It’s not that I don’t like what I scrapped – but it doesn’t fit the story anymore. I have every intention of using what I’ve had to pull out in another story later on. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t delete anything. Every story I’ve ever written has an accompanying document named “Outtakes.” Sometimes the outtakes runs for dozens of pages. Once I deleted a full 42 pages of a story, straight out, because it wasn’t working.
It sounds like I’m super cold-blooded about the process. There’s a popular phrase about how writers are always killing their darlings. (William Faulkner originally; Stephen King was paraphrasing him.) It’s completely true; somehow, all my best jokes and sexiest lines seem to be right smack in the middle of a scene or moment that ends up in that Outtakes file. Sometimes they make it back into the story. Most of them, not.
One of the scenes that bit the dust from the most recent Nano novel is – as it turns out – the opening scene. It’s rough, but I love this opening, because I think it really lays out Bryce’s personality and the conflict that was originally going to be a driving force for the plot. The problem is – this was the plot that I ended up dropping from the story in favor of one that was clicking a lot better. I still love this opening, and I still love Bryce’s interaction with his mom – and truth be told, I still like the plot as I originally imagined it, so I’m thinking I might end up giving it its own book next.
Here’s the original opening to my Nano book. Read it, and tell me what you think!
It was exactly the conversation that Bryce hadn’t wanted to have when answering the phone on his desk first thing Tuesday morning.
“No, Mom,” he groaned with the phone tucked under his ear and bitterly regretting that he’d ever given his mother his work number. At least his boss wasn’t in yet. “My cell phone’s fine, I just paid it up last week.”
“Well, I’ve called a dozen times in the last four days and you haven’t once returned my calls,” complained Alicia XXX. Even over the phone, Bryce could imagine the hands on her hips, her eyes looking anxiously at her bullet journal where she’d undoubtedly underlined Call Bryce again! “Are you sure it’s working? Jessie! Jessie! Call Bryce on his phone, I want him to tell me what happens when he has an incoming call.”
Shit, thought Bryce, and scrambled to shove his phone under the thickest file folder of accounts payable he could find in the deepest drawer of his desk. And of course the damned drawer had to stick, the way he always did when there was someone in the office watching him with a raised eyebrow, undoubtedly judging Bryce and wondering how the hell Padma Chatterjee, Assistant Director of Accounts Receivable and Bryce’s boss, put up with him.
“Are you sure you want this one?” the old bat running the typing pool had said when Bryce had been called up three years before. “You know he’s—”
“Yes,” said Padma Chatterjee, and that was that.
He had to kick the drawer to close it, but hopefully his mother wouldn’t hear the tell-tale ring over the open landline.
“Do you hear it? I don’t hear it,” demanded Alicia.
“Mom, you know I’m at work, right?”
“I know, Brycie, but the—”
“Please don’t call me that!”
“—wedding’s in two weeks and you haven’t said if D.B. is able to get off work.”
Bryce looked frantically around the office, quickly determining that it was still thankfully empty. “Mom!” he hissed, lowering his volume and reaching up to cradle the phone in his hand while turning in his chair, as if it offered some degree of privacy. “I told you, I can’t talk about D.B. at work!”
“I know, darling, but—”
“I don’t know, but he should be able to give me an answer today.”
Click click click went the tell-tale sound of Padma Chatterjee’s shoes against the marble floors. Bryce winced.
Shit. He quickly straightened and turned around – and yup, sure enough, there was Padma, dressed in a bright purple suit with a paisley pashmina over one shoulder, and holding the customary tray of mochaccinos from the coffee shop downstairs. Her hair was in a large, low bun at the back of her head. There were a few wisps of gray in her otherwise jet-black hair, but otherwise she didn’t look a day over thirty-five, though Bryce knew for a fact she was close to fifty.
Padma looked extremely interested in the phone call. Bryce smiled weakly at her, and pretended as if he was very busy rummaging in his desk, shuffling papers and opening drawers.
“Oh, good, your phone is ringing!” said Alicia. “I was so worried.”
“I know,” sighed Bryce.
“I’ll call you back later tonight. I’m so excited, Brycie! You have a good day, take the world by storm!”
Alicia hung up without waiting for Bryce’s response. He dropped the receiver on the phone’s base and let his head fall against his desk with a groan.
“Ah,” said Padma Chatterjee. “Not about the Whippleton account, I take it.”
“My mother,” said Bryce to his desk.
He heard the soft thunk of the coffee tray being set down on his desk, followed by the squeaking sound of a paper cup being wrested from the cardboard tray. “Hmm. Lucky for you, the salted caramel is back in stock.”
“Oh, thank God,” groaned Bryce, lifting his head and taking his cup from Padma. It was exactly warm enough to feel comfortable in his hands, and he breathed in the scent.
“As you like,” said Padma, amused. She picked the tray back up and carried it back into her office. “Your phone is still ringing!”
“What? Oh.” Bryce reached into the bottom drawer, shoving the file aside to grab his phone. “Dad, okay! You could have hung up when Mom heard it ringing, you know.”
“I’m allowed to talk to my son once in a while,” said Jessie XXX.
Bryce sighed. “I’m sorry. Hi, Dad.”
“Did you watch the game last night?”
Bryce eyed his coffee longingly. “Yeah, but I would have appreciated it ending without overtime.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” said Jessie. “When Parker hit that ground-out to right field…”
“Dad,” said Bryce, “can we talk about this later? I’m sort of working?”
There was a chuckle from Padma’s office. Bryce resisted the urge to spin around in his chair and stick out his thumb at her.
“Of course. Don’t let your mother hound you about D.B. too much, okay?”
Bryce disconnected the call and dropped the phone back down in the drawer, which closed smoothly on its own, as if it’d never posed anyone trouble in its entire existence. He took a long drink of his coffee for fortification.
It wasn’t that talking to his parents was a bother – most of the time, anyway. Alicia could be somewhat overbearing and demanding, but Bryce’s father Jessie was as easy-going an alpha woman as they came, and she had been the one to teach Bryce to take the much more headstrong, determined omega Alicia in stride.
At twenty-seven years old, Bryce could handle any storm his mother created.
It was handling his own storms that was the issue – and the storm that was brewing now was entirely Bryce’s fault. A storm named Hurricane D.B., Bryce’s erstwhile boyfriend and the current epicenter of all of his problems.
You’ll just have to think of something, Bryce told himself firmly. Come up with another excuse to explain D.B.’s absence.
So that was the original opening – it’s a lot different now!
What do you think? Keeping in mind it’s only a first draft – and the new opening is very different – would you want to keep reading, and learn more about Bryce and D.B. and what Bryce’s parents have planned? Or do you think this darling deserved its untimely death?