Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Drafting

Now, for those of you who don't know this about me, I used to be in the restaurant business (before I had my mid-life crisis, had a baby and started writing full-time).
One of the many things I did in this business was bartend. I'm sure most of you think it's a relatively easy job (for those of you who know how hard it is, thank you) however, after pouring many countless drinks for patrons over the years, there is a kind of ease one may be able to achieve. Until you have to tap a keg.

I don't care who you are, how many keggers you have been to, or how many drafts you have drunk, there is a subtle art to pouring the perfect draft beer. Now, I'm sure you've seen it done, the bartender holds the glass under the tap, gives the lever a flick and the malt beverage of your choice pours down into the glass. However, did you know that if you hold the glass directly under the glass, you get a glass full of foam? You must hold the glass to the lever so that the beer flows against the glass. As the glass fills to a little over 3/4ths, that is when you hold the glass directly so just the tippy-top of the glass is foam. A perfect draft beer is when there is only a quarter to half inch of foam from the top of the glass. Unless you are at an Ocktober Fest celebration and, well, anything goes.

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with writing. Yes, actually I am too.
I've been working on Richard & Amanda's story for the last two weeks. (Regency romance set in England & America 1816) It is a first draft. I am now up to Chapter 5. Richard & Amanda have met, they have had conversation, and quite possibly sex, he must leave her (for altruistic reasons) and now, he and his humble servant are in the swamps of South Carolina freeing slaves. Up until this point I have poured a perfect glass. The story arc is going in just the right direction, the dialogue is pretty good, the moods are what they are supposed to be.

In doing my research for this book, it seems I have over-researched, so much so that Chapter 5 was turning into a litany of slave trading, abolitionists, and the horrors of being a slave. I forgot to tip the glass. I have too much foam. Now, sometimes in the bartending world, there is a spoon for this sort of calamity, set right there in the reservoir of the draft taps. Too much foam, you take the spoon, spoon it out, refill the glass on the side. Easy. Same is true for over-drafting. I have since pulled apart Chapter 5 and spooned out what I really don't need, as much of a history lesson I would love to incorporate, this is still a romance novel.

In my first book Masquerade I ended up with 124K words. Talk about foam! I didn't realize what I was doing, I just thought I was writing the perfect book. Only until I read so many more blogs and books did I realize I had over-drafted and there was no spoon in the world big enough to help me. Which brings me back to tapping a keg.

When you tap a keg, you must first roll the keg to its spot under the tap. Usually these are mounted on the wall. Now, because you have rolled the keg to its spot, the contents in the keg have been shaken up, the bubbles are bouncing and the beer wants to get out. As you tap the keg, you generally make a big mess with foam and beer getting all over the place. (I only knew one man who never ever made a mess.) Now, as the tap has been locked into the keg, you are ready to pour from the lever at the bar. But remember I said, the beer was jostled, and is bubbling and it wants to get out so when you pour from the lever, all you get is foam. You need to let this run until all the foam disappears and you have smooth running draft.

Now, because Masquerade was the first book I ever finished writing (the first keg I ever tapped) it was foam. Only until I let the book (keg) settle, did I realize what had happened which is when I had to spoon, spoon, spoon much foam from it. It was a daunting task to have to keep spooning foam. But I did it, and now have a beautiful glass of finished beer.

I guess, gentle readers, what I'm trying to say, is when you're writing your book, try not to have too much foam in the first draft. Sure you need a little, who doesn't, it tickles your nose, and looks cute on your upper lip. But as you write, keep the lever against the glass, so what you do end up with is narrative. The more foam you have, in the end, the more you have to spoon it out. And sometimes this is a very slow, agonizing process.

The question for the day -- Do you have foam in a first draft or do you wait until you have poured and then put the foam in later?

22 comments:

Tara said...

Hmmm. I'm not really about sappy overdone metaphors. Beer? Beer is a kick-a$$ metaphor. I love it. The metaphor, that is. I only drink beer about 3x a year--still. Sweet.

I had so much foam in the FD of my 1st novel that a simple romance was 175k. I kid you not. The first cut brought it down to 140. It's been sitting for a year now, but I think it stands at 110--still probably 30k too much for what it is. I'll get back to it one day. Meanwhile, I have two books waiting ahead of it in line, plus my finished one.

Roulette, however, I think I've left the foam off entirely. I'm going back through and finding myself adding some here and there. It's 88k, but I think once I do this final edit it will top out somewhere around 92.

Simon C. Larter said...

Oh, nice analogy, good lady. Well done. Well done indeed! You had me at beer...

But, since I haven't drafted a full novel yet, I have no idea how much foam I'll have. We'll see!

Piedmont Writer said...

Tara -- I hear you on the foam. 175k, that's just crazy, but I know how it feels. You just have to write your guts out and see what happens. Then it's just a matter of spooning it all out.

Piedmont Writer said...

Simon -- I knew I'd get you with the beer. So get on with the novel already. I love the way you write and want to see some excerpts so I can comment on them.

Julie said...

I worked at a restaurant for a year as a server and we had to take a "drink test" just to get the job - top twenty drinks, exactly what's in them (down to the ounces), the type of glass used and any garnish added at the end.

And we weren't bartenders so I have no clue what their test was like. I totally get that.

And you're right about first drafts - I've had better luck when there was less and I could add more. My first draft of my first MS was 114K (which is a lot for YA).

Every time I'd take a scene out then a character i removed would pop up or a line of dialogue referencing that scene would show up and all of its in my head so I can't even catch those mistakes most of the time.

Summer said...

It's 10am, and now I want some beer! There is something very satisfying about pulling off the perfect draft, though... Too bad it's not that easy with a book!

I'm the queen of foam in novel form, though my micro fiction and poetry is a lot more, umm...malty? ;-)

Piedmont Writer said...

Julie -- now that I've been blogging around and seeing what other writers do, and now having done it to my own first, I think it's a whole lot easier to put the foam in when the ms is finished than it is to take it out. I hear you on the mistakes you miss, I'm still finding them.

Summer -- I'll tell you, some days with the Monster Child I want to crack one at 7am. But I don't drink anymore so I just brush my teeth.
I wish for a perfect draft, someday maybe, but not likely for a long time. I've got too much to say, it's where the story takes me.

Shelley Sly said...

Awesome metaphor you have going here. :)
For me, it depends on the novel. My first one was pretty balanced at 95K before editing and 99K after. My second is like a beer without the foam: only 60K first draft. Haven't started editing yet, since I'm giving it some time to sit, but I'm hoping to get it up to at least 70K.

Piedmont Writer said...

Shelley -- See, it's all in the foam. I hate first drafts actually. I can't ever seem to get them the way I want to but I suppose that's why they're called drafts.

Lady Glamis said...

What a great post! Yes, Monarch had way too much foam in the first draft. I just had to dump it out and start over. And now I'm seeing that I haven't done all correctly. Again. Writing is hard. Heh.

Piedmont Writer said...

Glam -- Writing IS hard. Why do we do it?

Kristi Faith said...

Good comparison!! :0) Thank you for such a great post. Restaraunt business is hard work. I did a lot of that too! :)

I'm bad about info dumping in the middle of my first drafts...or everywhere...but part of the fun of foam is cleaning it up. :0)

Falen said...

Ha! This metaphor was awesome!
I do have some foam in my first draft. But i knew it when i was writing it. I don't think my foam spoon will need to be that big to fix it up

Piedmont Writer said...

Kristi -- Waitresses are my heroes or heroines! I like cleaning up the foam but some days it's not fun.

Sarah -- I thought the metaphor was kinda' cute myself. I've got two spoons, one big, one small. Depends on what I'm working on.

sarahjayne smythe said...

You have the best stories, bar none. :) And I supposed it matters what I'm working on. Foam first or foam later, it seems like I generally just spoon all of it away in the end.

Piedmont Writer said...

Sarah Jayne -- I hear you with the spoon. I was just telling the other Sarah I've got to get back to one more look-see on Masquerade, make sure I took out enough foam.

And I have the best stories, bar none -- was that a deliberate pun??? on today's post????

sarahjayne smythe said...

A deliberate pun? Who me? :) I was just sayin'.

Erin Kuhns said...

Normally, I love reading all of the comments before I add mine. Tonight, however, I absolutely have to go to bed, so I've had to postpone the comment-reading for this post until tomorrow (I will leave it open on my browser...look forward to it).

I just wanted to say that I loved the metaphor, Anne!! And I think it is one that will stick with me. You described both types of drafts very well.

So now I'm off to bed, even though I'd sure love a beer right about now...

Ryan said...

I think I might have felt better with my first draft if there was some foam too it. And, the thing is, after two drafts and a polish, it still doesn't have a lot of anything at all. I still think its good though, because it doesn't have a lot of the stuff that adds foam to a novel. Its more like a minimalist's beer instead of a full blown mug.

Piedmont Writer said...

Ryan -- minimalist is good if you've got all the right words. I know of a writer who can take one sentence and fill your mind with so much imagery you don't need any extra foam. If you think it's good, then who cares what the rest of us think. Well, except an agent.

Christi Goddard said...

I'm finding lots of foam. Not in the action or dialogue, but in the sentences that accompany the dialogue. I do too much telling to give a reader an idea how they are standing, where they are looking, HOW they said it, passive voice. Blah. Spoon spoon spoon.

I've whittled off 8,000 words in the last ten days, and have half the book to go. I'm DOWN to 119,000. In my defense, it's a Fantasy with about a dozen main characters so it was bound to be somewhat longer than other genres.

Piedmont Writer said...

Christi -- Good for you that you can find and spoon it. Congratulations, 8,000 words is impressive in 10 days. Fantasy, from what I've heard is a always a little bit longer because of the world building, but hey, way to go. Even if it comes in at 105K that's still got a really good shot.