A former student wrote to me saying she's bogged down in an early novel draft, can't seem to get past the middle, goes back to read what she's written and it feels clunky and awkward. The more she tries to push ahead, the weaker the writing gets. So I started thinking about drafts, and wondering if perhaps she was trying to judge hers by the same standards she'd apply to a finished work. Which doesn't seem fair somehow.
In early drafts I find that I am often literal and tedious. I usually begin with a character or two--or more. But it takes living with a story for a while before I can find my way to figuring out:
1. What the story is--plot
2. What voice to use--voice, tone
3. What slice of the story to tell--timeline
4. What viewpoint to tell it in--POV
5. How to open, how to end--scene or summary, and how to balance them throughout
6. When to zoom close and when to pull away--psychic distance
7. Who the characters really are--desires, flaws, driving beliefs.
Unless you're one of those rigorous outliners who has to nail it all down before starting to write, it's clear that this is only going to happen over a few to several drafts, with some good reflecting, note-taking, organizing, reworking time in between.
And then too, in among the literal and tedious material, there will be a few gems that remain, leaving their traces in the story. Drafts need to be--well, drafty. With some large holes to let the cold critical breezes in that will show me how to reshape the work.