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Brackets of Holding

August 12, 2011

“First drafts are about getting the story on paper, however you need to.

Revisions are about putting the story into the most dramatic format possible,

so the reader sticks with you for the whole story.”

Darcy Pattison

This quote has been my mantra for the first draft of My Haunted Life. It literally pains my soul to look back at what I’ve written so far because it is so messy and scattered with holes. I think every writer wants the story in their head flow out, fully formed and glorious like a phoenix as it rises to the top of the best seller list.

This is not the case.

For most I think it is more like a flightless phoenix poking it’s head out of the ashes of your messy drafts to crawl to the nearest bookshelf. Probably your mother’s.

I’ve had to learn that revision is my friend because I write very messy first drafts. I’m almost done (7 scenes left to write!) and getting very anxious to get back and revise. I’m excited to make a plan, to cut up my precious lump of marble and carve out something wonderful. Or at least something that resembles a novel. :)

However, my real reason for posting today is to talk about a tool I have learned to use while writing a first draft that has made my writing life so much easier.

I call them: Brackets of Holding.

Some people use regular old parenthesis. Some people use a # or some other symbol. I prefer my Brackets of Holding.

Brackets of Holding are useful when you need to [insert parade description here] or [fight scene with a bucket and two spatulas]. You can even use it when you need a character or object name: “Do you have any [mythical creature venom] for sale Mr. [name]?”

I think of Brackets of Holding like Hermione’s beaded bag in the seventh Harry Potter book. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, shame on you! Even the movies included this amazing bag.) The bag itself is tiny but it has an Undetectable Extension Charm on it so that it can hold so much more than what it really is. Hence, Brackets of Holding are a small word or phrase that contain a scene or larger concept that you don’t know yet or haven’t written.

So what’s the point? The point is when you are in the flow of writing, you want to avoid anything that will break that flow, such as the need to invent a recipe for a magical sandwich, a character name or to write a fight scene/love scene when you are terrified to do so or don’t know how. Just use some Brackets of Holding and keep going! Your draft might be rather messy, like mine. But I am a firm believer that a first draft should be written as quickly as possible. It is the best way to get your ideas out of your head so you can judge them properly.

If only I would follow my own advice …

It’s just like Darcy says. Do whatever you need to do to get the story on paper. You can fix it up later. More on editing when I get to that stage in my own writing.

What tricks do you use to get through the first draft?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. eastbaywriter permalink
    August 12, 2011 5:41 pm

    Like you, I use bracket-ish characters as placeholders, though I use these: . I agree it’s very helpful because it doesn’t interrupt the flow, and when I have those days where I don’t have lots of new ideas or big things to write about, a quick search in my word processor and I can fill in some of those gaps. Another trick I use is to jot down a list of topics that I keep running all the time. Sometimes as I’m re-reading my work, a new idea will crop up, so I jot it down. Sometimes I’ll see something on TV or hear something in a conversation. I go back to that list of topics periodically to see if they spark some inspiration as I’m working through my draft. Sometimes I add new elements or use those ideas to rework a section that wasn’t that great the first time around. They work as my own sort of writing prompts. Good luck with your first draft!

  2. August 12, 2011 9:27 pm

    Hi Heather,

    I use Scrivener and it has a cool “annotation” feature that changes the font color to red. You can also choose to exclude all annotations from the text during the compile process.

  3. August 12, 2011 10:33 pm

    @eastbaywriter – I like the idea of a running list of topics. I really should make one of those. My ideas are scattered in so many files because I started writing this draft in Word and then I switched to Scrivener and didn’t copy everything over.

    @Charlotte – I use Scrivener but I haven’t really learned it yet. I must check this out. It sounds brilliant. Thanks for the tip!

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