Lie Your Way to a First Draft

You’ve gotten to a point in your WIP’s first draft that requires a leap. A change. A 180. The correction of a plot hole, perhaps. The point is, somehow things have unfolded in a manner you were not expecting, and as a result you need to adapt the piece to this new trajectory.

You can start over from the beginning, and try to incorporate this new truth into the piece. A huge commitment, especially if you are already halfway through. But if it works, it works.

A less drastic option is to make a list of all the aspects of your story up until that point that will have to be changed in order to fix your continuity. Address each dissonance one at a time, see how that would change other things, fix those, and so on until the surprise development is fully assimilated into your work. Then you can continue with the rest of the draft.

There is no right or wrong to this situation, but I’d like to propose an alternative approach that for my money is most effective and less stressful. Ready?

Lie to yourself.

More specifically, pretend the problem is solved as of right now. You don’t know how the narrative gets from the start to your current point, you just say that it has, and you continue writing your draft. If a character that died in chapter five has to have survived after all in order for your plot to evolve, guess what? The character survived. That three page death scene you concocted during a bout of insomnia is null and void. Every world in your draft from here on out will be written with the assumption that by some unknown manner, (possibly magic?) that death never happened.

So again, lie to yourself about.

What purpose does this serve? It keeps you focused on your primary task at this point: finishing your first draft.

And that is all it is, a first draft. We all know that first drafts are shit for everyone. That doesn’t just mean the writing is bland or that you use too many adverbs. It means that the goal of a first draft is to produce the lump of clay from which you will eventually shape your novel. But you can’t shape it before you draft it, just like you can’t actually produce that vase before the clay is even on the wheel.

Of course you will, in revisions have to revisit the change in trajectory. That hole will have to be filled in one fashion or the other. Like a credit card, you are in essence buying now, and paying later. But unlike a credit card, there is no deadline, no penalty. Allow yourself the satisfaction of finishing the draft while under the (temporary) delusion that the roadblock has not only been removed, but never existed. Then when you go back for revisions, you will have spent quite a deal more time in your fictional world, and likely will find a solution easier to come up with than if you stressed about fixing the problem before daring to move forward with the draft.

It can be a challenging strategy for some. We are hardwired to move in a linear direction, from home to destination. If there is an obstacle, we want to take care of it before we move on in the easiest Point A-to-Point B manner.

But we are creating. Engaging our imagination, and hopefully those of other people some day. The rules of locomotion don’t apply here.

In the end, the answer almost always comes, if we continue working at it. You do yourself a solid as an author to have faith in that, even as you move on in your story. One of the few times that “lying” to yourself is advantageous.

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