Monday, July 25, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 1

Every day between now and Thursday, exciting authors will be revealing excerpts from the first drafts of books you may have read (or might be reading soon!) Today's fearless author is Nova Ren Suma, whose YA novel Imaginary Girls has been getting rave reviews from Kirkus, the L.A. Times, and everywhere in between.

But writing an acclaimed literary YA novel doesn't happen in one draft...

A Scene Sliced Out of IMAGINARY GIRLS

by Nova Ren Suma

I write long. My first drafts are a study in endlessless and an experiment of how many times I can have my characters discover and rediscover the same thing and face up to the same epiphany. In first drafts, apparently everyone I write about has amnesia. That, or it takes me a few times to get a scene down right.

This means that when it comes time for revision the first thing I do is cut. I cut, then rewrite, then cut some more. (Then I do it again. And again.) The snippet of the scene I'm about to share isn't something I cut out of horror--this does happen; I've been known to cut-and-cringe--this scene was simply something that didn't fit the more I kept writing.

Imaginary Girls, my first YA novel that came out this summer, is the story of two closely entwined sisters: Ruby, the magnetic older sister, and Chloe, the little sister and narrator of the book. Technically they're half sisters, since they have different fathers, but Ruby would punch you in the face if you said they weren't fully related. Here's a piece of a scene I cut about Ruby's dad:
The car jolted to a stop on the curb.

“Another errand?” I joked.

Ruby looked at me sideways. “Have to stop here,” she said. “Always have to stop.”

I looked to see where we were--the house just before the hill, the one with the funky sculptures scattered around the front lawn. A fence separated it from the sidewalk--painted blue with fluffy white clouds. Ruby despised that fence. It forced you to be cheerful, she said, when maybe you weren't in the mood. No one should force a feeling on someone who's just innocently driving by their house.

“Remember this place?” she said.

I nodded. Sure, I remembered. She always liked to mess with this house. It gave her such glee. If Ruby was ever depressed, drop her here and let her have at it.

She despised more than the fence. She despised the purple the house was painted; the fact that someone dared paint their house purple; the colorful deck chairs on the lawn; the fact that there were even deck chairs set out on the lawn when there wasn't a deck to put them on, so strangers could just walk on in through the happy fence and kick back on the chairs and be happy; and especially the “art” on the lawn, abstract sculptures made from items probably scavenged from the nearby dump. It was the ugliest art Ruby had ever seen and it bothered her so much, she had to avert her eyes when driving past it.

But that really wasn't the point, and I knew it even if Ruby wouldn't say it. This house happened to be where that man lived, the one we saw around town sometimes, the one she said was her father.

Ruby caught the look on my face.

“Don't be so serious,” she said. “I just need to do one window.”

See, I liked the idea of Ruby wrecking her estranged father's house, to let him know she's well aware of who he is. But if I did that, it puts weight on Ruby's father--a character who barely merits mention in the book. I'd have to tie him into the plot later. Also, it means that Ruby actually cares. And anyone who's read the book knows Ruby only cares about herself, and her little sister. The deeper I wrote beyond first draft the more I realized that it was a detour I didn't need. (Props to my wise editor who must be given credit for helping me come to this and other realizations.)

So I cut this scene free. In truth, I cut so many pages from the first draft of Imaginary Girls--about 200--and rewrote them that I think this shows how sometimes when you're writing a first draft you're not really writing your story yet. You're writing toward your story.

Your first draft may be bloated and repetitive and out of character and utterly random, as mine often are, but you toiled to get those words down on the page for a reason…

…So you could cut them and make room for the better words--and the true story--meant to follow.


INTERN here. As you can tell from Nova's excerpt from an early draft of Imaginary Girls, there are many reasons for cutting a scene besides shitty writing. Sometimes, scenes with GOOD writing need to get cut too, because they simply don't fit the story anymore. Visit Nova's website here.

Stay tuned as International Sh*tty First Draft Week continues tomorrow with an author whose passion for food led her to cook up a book deal with Penguin!


  1. This post reminds me of those awful DVD extras where they show you "deleted scenes." Does anyone look at them? (I rarely do.)

    But from a technical standpoint, they give a more nuanced look to what stays in the work and why that is so. While I'm glad that novels don't include "deleted scenes" as a matter of course, I'm glad that Nova gave us an inside look to the process behind her novel. Thanks!

  2. "Sometimes when you're writing a first draft you're not really writing your story yet. You're writing toward your story."

    This is so true. I never truly discover my characters and the world around them until my second draft. So cool to see Nova Ren Suma on here. Her book was one of my favorites this year!

  3. Great post.
    There are "experts" out there who tell you if you plot right you never have to "waste your time" on taking out scenes. But if that doesn't work for you then it's bunk. I agree with write toward your story. The verb, the action is write.
    Thanks for the post. Cheers~

  4. Love the cheerful fence and the idea of going off and repeatedly trashing someone's house.

    But yeah, you'd have to meet the owner at some point, and I hope you're able to use it in some other novel. Like to find the owner had long ago moved.

  5. It must be hard to cut such a well-written and vivid scene but I can see how it wouldn't fit in the finished novel.