Writing and first drafts: or What I’ve Learned This Semester In College

So, I’ve been taking an advanced creative writing class. I’ve had such classes before and they are loads of fun, as long as you aren’t afraid to let anyone else read your work. I got over that a long time ago. All our assignments have been 2-3 pages, some with some guiding theme. We were directed to write one story as our exact opposite type, personality, upbringing, whatever made that person different from ourselves. Another time it was a condensed life, packing a character’s life into those few pages. Such short assignments is meant to teach us to shape our prose, to weave a compelling story structure and do it in the space allotted. That and the short pieces mean we get to cover several per class, otherwise we’d never get anything done.

I’m amazed and in awe of the talent among my classmates. All of them have demonstrated humor, drama and deft skill in shaping words and phrases to tell a story. And Jill, our instructor, is amazing. She can cut right to the heart of what a story could use to make it even better and also tries to coax from the readers what it is they are finding in the story that needs helps, all of which is fantastic in helping me as a writer hone my skills.

Jill gave us an excellent analogy for writing. All of our pieces we have presented are first drafts. She likens writers to anthropologists and biologists, specifically Jane Goodall. Our characters are like those chimpanzees and we are the observer. We don’t know why Bucky just smacked Bubba upside the head, nor do we understand why Delilah broke up the fight. We just watch what they’re doing and write it all down. That’s the first draft. The second draft and those subsequent are when we writers/anthropologists go back to our tent in the jungle with our notes and start rereading them and figuring out what the motives behind the actions are.  We sit under our mosquito netting and revise what we know about our characters based on everything we have observed. So, it becomes apparent that Bucky was retaliating for Bubba stealing his nesting spot and Delilah, as their mother, felt it necessary to stop the fight before it got out of control, Or whatever it is your characters are doing.

So, I’m off to the jungle, to follow some chimpanzees and take some notes.