Leaning into the Discovery Draft

I’ve been known to self-edit when I write… a lot. For the first draft of WoEM, I think I wrote and rewrote the first couple of chapters three or four times before I made any real progress on the story.

I’ve been knee-deep in the discovery draft of my short stories for a couple months, and it’s taken a while to convince my brain that it’s only the discovery draft.

So I just wanted to talk about some things to keep in mind as you write a discovery draft.

Turns out this is not the first time I’ve written about the elusive Discovery Draft, but here’s my quick definition of this writing stage:

Discovery Draft (noun): An early of first draft of a story in which you have very little of the plot outlined and you make it up as you go!

Why did I decide to write a Discovery Draft for my short stories / novella? Because these stories do not take place in Everfeld, the country I have called my writing home for… six years! The characters are not Feldings, and there isn’t even a reference to Everfeld. So this is new territory for me (figuratively), where I can really explore the land and people of these stories and build the world from scratch.

As I progress, I’ve had to keep a few things in mind to silence my inner editor and just let the story breathe through the discovery draft.

3 Things to Keep in Mind

1 – You don’t know what the plot is yet.

Maybe you just know the Beginning, Middle, and End beats, but you don’t have all of the threads weaving those together yet. The pacing will feel jolting as you move from scene to scene. You may not even like some scenes as you’re writing them.

Just push forward and correct — or delete — them later.

2 – You don’t know which characters matter yet.

Outside of your main protagonist and perhaps an antagonist, all of your characters are new. Some will end up having major roles to play while others fade into the background. For the discovery draft, treat all of your characters as if they matter to the larger story.

Try to give each of them interesting dialogue and plot-moving scenes. Let them make decisions that impact the protagonist. If you end up with too many characters, you can always condense them later. The ones who really matter will become obvious.

(In WoEM, Orel and Rían are clear examples of this. I did not know either of those characters would end up being as important as they are!)

3 – Lean into the world-building.

Your discovery draft is not just about discovering you plot and characters. Discover the world they inhabit!

Description, exposition, background narrative… These elements might be boring to some readers, but you’re not writing the discovery draft for your readers. You’re writing it to discover what is significant about your story.

Why do the plot of the characters matter? What makes readers you want to know more? What point are you trying to make by telling this story?

Sometimes you don’t know the answers to these questions until you’ve given yourself — and you characters — room to explore the world a little bit. What are they looking for? What do they fear? What do they depend on? These questions will be easier to answer the more you understand about your story’s background.

So write about it. Answer those questions as richly as you can. If you don’t want that much exposition in the final version, then trim it down later. But don’t lose out on the possibility of that richness just because “there’s too much exposition”.

The Discovery Draft is for you, the writer, to figure out just what you are writing. So allow yourself the freedom to explore.

My Own Discovery Drafting

The first 8,000 or so words of my short stories are not very good. They just kind of meander until I figure out a real plot. But I’ve left that behind for now.

At around 17,000 words, I really feel like I’ve hit my rhythm with this project. I’m still not plotting anything beyond the next scene, but I’m comfortable with what I have, and I know I’ll have some work cut out for me when I revise.

But the discovery draft is just that. Enjoy the journey.

Steve D

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