5 Key Elements to Include In Your First Draft


Dive into the Novel Writing Series part 3 and learn the 3 things to do when prewriting your novel so you write your WIP successfully + freebie inside!

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Ever wondered while writing your fantasy novel, just what exactly should be going into the first draft? 

If you’re anything like me - you’re a plotter. And that can sometimes mean, a diabolical perfectionist that focuses on all the things BUT writing, at times. 

However, you and I both know, the first draft is NOT the last draft. Which means, it can be as ugly, jacked up, and out of sorts as possible. 

Yes - you plot away and get yourself together with a tight outline so you go through less drafts than most writers. But, regardless, as you write and keep writing, the true story will develop. 

To help you keep from chasing all the things, here is a breakdown of my top 5 key elements necessary to focus on in your first draft.

1. Character Development

  1.  Define who all of your main characters are

  2. Be sure the progression of the present draft is a continuation of what took place from the characters backstory

    1. If your character is running away from the fulfillment of a prophecy, as you write the draft, you should have knowledge in your mind of what took place before the present, to cause them to currently be on the run

    2. Know the why’s of their current actions, motives, drives, and desires

  3. Focus on character arcs

    1. Positive: As the story progresses, the journey, character, and motives of the characters progressively become more positive until they reach a satisfying end

    2. Negative: As the story progresses, the journey, character, and motives of the characters progressively become more negative until they reach a devastating end

    3. Flat: As the story progresses, the characters make no change - their beliefs, motives, and intentions at the beginning of the story stays relatively the same by the end of the story

  4. Define your characters goals, motives, and the progression of how this changes (or doesn’t) throughout the story

REMEMBER: This is just the first draft. All of this information doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want to make sure you’re hitting them so that when you revise, you’re simply cultivating, NOT creating from scratch. 

This will challenge you to know your characters on a deeper level even before you dive in so that you have a more rounded per view of who they are and what they want plus what they need as your story progresses.

2. Point Of View: POV

  1. Narrow down your cast to exactly whose point of view the story will be told from

    1. It can be easy to be distracted from the main plot of your story - extraneous characters will drain and take away from what actually needs to be there

    2. Think of the CURRENT book you’re writing, not the entirety of the series as a whole

    3. Who needs to be in THIS novel (and be sure to know why) - Because whoever is in this story will be the ones to trigger a domino effect that will soon bring in other characters with their own POV’s and world views

  2. The POV of the characters you choose will dictate the readers per view because now the reader is experiencing this brand new world through the eyes and experiences of the chosen characters POV

    1. Be clear with yourself on who should be telling the story and why

3. World Building

  1. Define the normal world(s) of the character(s) with clarity and detail

    1. What is normal life for them? School? Work? 

    2. What about their relationships? 

    3. What about goals and visions they wish to accomplish: WHERE do they go to do these things?

    4. Think of yourself, the human being and your own normal world. You go to a certain job each day. You know what route to drive to get there. You know the coffee spot you stop at to get some caffeine before you need to clock in. You know how to get to your desk and which coworker you tend to avoid, and why. You know which streets to avoid so you don’t get caught in traffic. You know exactly which man or woman will be by the streetlight holding a sign for spare change - and at what time they will be there

    5. It’s the SAME EXACT THING for your characters. And this is an element I believe is incredibly important to include in the first draft

    6. Cultivate your character(s) normal world. This way, when something changes, the characters (And readers) can clearly note the uniqueness because they know something isn’t right

    7. Highlight who they always talk to. Who they go to for advice. Define where they live - but really. The neighborhood, the style of the home, the neighbors, and so on

    8. Don’t be afraid to dig into the landscape and other elements of their world also

  2. Make sure it’s believable

    1. Don’t make stuff up without there being any origin for it. Or any purpose for it. And be SURE to not deviate from norms. I.E. If baby vampires are known throughout society as kind creatures - don’t randomly make one evil. Breaking your own rules doesn’t work

    2. When building your world in the first draft, be clear on what your world rules are. Your societal rules. And make sure they aren’t broken. If you don’t know what they are, pause a moment, and dig deep into them. Get clear. The clearer you are, the clearer your characters will be, the clearer your readers will be

  3. Be sure to define other parts of your world with fun and adventure. NOTHING IS OFF LIMITS. It’s the first draft, so within the boundaries of those rules you have, let ANYTHING happen. Create and later on you can cultivate

    1. Whether the characters have a quest to go on. Or a trek to embark on - detail their world as they go. Note the fjords and mountains, and forests, and rivers. Note the changing of the sun and the brilliance of the moon. Note the migration of the fowls in the air. The beasts of the land. The legends of the seas. Describe the hills, the valleys, the random structures that are still standing from long ago. The weathered shrines that still remain. The glowing temples that have recently been built. Let your mind wander and create and illuminate this new world you’ve created

4. Time

  1. Be clear about how time operates

    1. Don’t jump from days to weeks to years without being clear about it

    2. If there are multiple dimensions or other parallel (or non parallel) universes that these characters will travel through, MAKE SURE you establish the movement of time

      1. I.E. In The Fènix Resistance Series, the realm (dimension) of Astraea is made of what’s called: Great Lands - GINORMOUS planets with endless kinds of angelic life and beauty. To the inhabitants of this realm, Kronos (time) moves differently than my other realm: Liustaeri, made up of Minor Lands, with planets of smaller size and angelic life that doesn’t live as long and some having little to no spectacular powers at all. One year in the realm of Astraea, or what I call cycles, so one cycle, is equal to 1,000 cycles (a thousand years) in the realm of Liustaeri. In other words: if an angel travels from one of the Great Lands and it’s the cycle 29, and they go to one of the Minor Lands, they will have shot forward about 29,000 cycles. But yet, advancement and power, is still greater in the Great Lands, then within the Minor. The Lands parallel one another in terms of wars and history, but the movement of time within the 2 are VASTLY different because it caters to the types of angelic beings that dwell within

      2. This is a complex way to describe time, but however you describe time, be sure to be clear. Root your characters in the moment in time they’re currently living in. If time ever changes, whether they have a flashback, or a vision of the future, or they travel through dimensions, be sure to be clear about the time they are in so their progression throughout the story relatively makes sense

5. Story progression

  1. Pacing & story beats: Make sure scenes are progressing at a balanced beat (pace), some parts aren't being rushed, or going slower than others

  2. Be attentive that your scenes are happening with logical progression and momentum - this helps avoid portions of the book that go too fast, or fall flat altogether

Remember: Your first draft is NOT your last. Therefore only focus on the important key elements to have in your first draft. Don’t get distracted. And above all else, write on!

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Sup fam! I'm Stephanie BwaBwa, a pretty simple gal who happens to be a YA fantasy author and has no shame drinking coffee and writing all day. I like helping fellow writers wade through the waters of crafting their stories (I mean let's face it, you have yet ANOTHER trilogy burning in the back of your brain), because, priorities.