Finding the Story

Here I am, late again, with the smallest and shortest nugget of wisdom I’ve come across in this whole project: the first draft is for finding the story.

That’s it, and it makes so much fucking sense. We talk about shitty first drafts and allowing ourselves to be wrong and I never quite got it. Then I read a post on tumblr where the poor poster was asking how to plot a novel, and all the pantsers1 showed up to say that the asker should just write and the plot would reveal itself. This sounded like madness to me. I was rolling it around in my head, as one does, when I sat down to actually post this section here on AiS–and when I found that I had left it half-unfinished. I had a whole chunk that just said “tdk2 figure this out later, it doesn’t make any sense”.

What the hell, I thought. This is Adventures in Storytelling, after all. And I just started writing. I wasted a lot of words on what people were wearing, the sky, how airplanes work, control towers… but I got there, eventually. It’s probably not perfect, but I got something, at least. I cut 975 words out of the 1500 I had written–yes, 65% of my words. But I got something.

It’s more than just a strategy for getting stuck in a short story, too. I’m suddenly shockingly, humiliatingly aware of all the bits of my novel-in-progress that are just floundering around trying to find story. Suddenly aware of everything I could cut out to reveal the real heart of what my story was supposed to be.3

I apologise to everyone reading, as surely this seems totally obvious to all of you. I especially apologise to Luke, who I badgered fairly relentlessly about his “freedom to be wrong”. I now realize that’s just a different way of saying “freedom to find your story”.

I googled a couple of variations on my revelation–that the first draft is for finding the story–because I figured someone would have said it better. I’m glad I did, because a new-to-me interview with Sir Terry is always a pleasure to find. I’ll leave you with what he said:

“What you call the first draft becomes rather like a caterpillar; it is progressing fairly slowly, but there is movement up and down its whole length, the whole story is being changed. I call this draft zero, telling myself how the story is supposed to go.”


  1. Have we talked about pantsing vs. plotting here at all? I feel like we all come down pretty hard on the “plotting” side…

  2. Yes, most writers use TK. But in my ill-advised youth I named an elf Tkalia, god help me, and needed a new find-and-replace strategy.

  3. Also aware of all the things that I would have changed in this project, if I was re-writing it now, but I refuse to obsess over that.

1 thought on “Finding the Story”

  1. Adventures in Storytelling is about doing. As creators, we all need to learn obvious lessons – the goal here is to learn them for ourselves. There is a ton of stuff going on in this brief article that gets me all jacked up about writing, but I think this whole (and forgive me for dipping in to self-help section language) ‘voyage of personal discovery’ thing is really engaging. It’s gratifying to see how we come to these realizations and see that there are others who have had the same problems in the past. It’s exciting that people who have made careers out of writing have engaged with the same thoughts. Every time it happens, it makes me feel like we’re doing something right as a community. I hope your self-discovery is useful, Amanda! I know I find your re-wording of Luke’s permission to be wrong helpful

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