After my last post Erin Edwards wrote:

I was thinking some more about this. It is interesting that you don’t do a lot of planning and organizing before you write, because I have found that if I don’t do at least some, I can’t write *anything* that isn’t extremely boring (if I can write anything at all.)
I am beginning to think that what some writers call first drafts and some call outlines look nothing like what I think a rough draft or an outline would look like. I learned a lot once from a conference where an editor showed the steps a manuscript took between submission and the final picture book. I wonder if you would consider showing us the rough draft of a scene and how it developed in the final book?

I asked for clarification, and Erin answered:

What I mean by a rough draft or an outline is what is the first thing you write down about a scene?

Then do you build directly on that? Or just take those ideas and start writing something new on a clean page?

I thought it would be easy to answer Erin’s questions, but when I looked at my notes I founds that my method isn’t methodical. Many many many and more scenes that I start with vanish and new ones take their place. I found an example, but I don’t know how representative it is.

Anyway, I write notes first. Sometimes I write some of the scene in my notes. Then I copy what I’ve written into my manuscript, which is just story, not a mix of story and notes. If I’m beginning a book, I write notes and then, when I figure out my beginning, I write it in a separate document (the clean page). This isn’t particularly the right way, it’s just my method.

The notes and the three fragments below are from my Mesopotamian fantasy Ever. These are my notes for the scene. The words in parentheses are from me now.

Maybe Kezi is there when Father swears oath. Maybe she plans to be there, to have oath carried out on her. Maybe she thinks father wouldn’t carry it out on her. Maybe the 3 of them are there. Maybe mother says she’ll be ok. Maybe mother says, keep everyone from him for three days. Then the oath will have no power, or Kezi knows this. She tries to keep everyone away, but a cousin comes. Kezi saves the cousin.

If Father had sworn that if Mother recovered he would sacrifice a goat, he would have had to do it. He wouldn’t have been able to wait three days and then forget about the oath. But if he swore, for example, that if IL (god whose name changes in each version) gave him a safe sea voyage he would sacrifice the first fish he caught to IL, if he didn’t catch any fish in t first three days, he could eat the fish on the 4th day. If no one congratulated Father (Trails off here, which notes can do.)

This story fragment, the beginning of the oath scene, was written around 3/24/06:

Only IL’s altar flame is steady. I am thrumming with fear. I’m pouring Mother a cup of water. The pitcher isn’t heavy, but I spill water on my hand anyway.
Mother is trembling more than I. Beads of sweat stand out on her forehead, and yet she shivers. Red welts run up her arms.
Father paces. He sits on the divan next to Mother, dries her face with his own sweat cloth. He stands, paces, sits again.
“I don’t want to die, Senat,” Mother tells Father, shaking so hard her voice is staccato. “I wish I could die.” She laughs jerkily, but it is her usual ironic laugh.

In the next version, the POV changes to third person. It was revised before 4/21/06:

Only Anlil’s altar flame is steady. Kezi thrums with fear. She pours her mother a cup of water. The pitcher isn’t heavy, but Kezi spills some of the water anyway.
Merem is trembling more than Kezi is. Beads of sweat stand out on Merem’s forehead, and yet she shivers. Red welts run up her arms.
Senat paces, which frightens Kezi more than anything. Her father is always confident.
“I don’t want to die, Senat,” Merem says, shaking so hard her voice is staccato. “I wish I could die.” She laughs jerkily, but it is her usual ironic laugh.

This is from the copy-edited manuscript, revised in 1/08, but the scene didn’t go directly from the one above to this. There must have been more changes along the way. Notice that the POV has gone back to first person. What you cant tell from this scene, though, is that now there are two first-person narrators. Here it is:

My bones hum with fear. Mati (Mother) didn’t rise from her bed this morning. Pado (Father) and I are with her. She’s shivering with fever and sweating at the same time. She presses one hand into her belly.
Pado paces, which frightens me almost as much as Mati’s fever. He’s always the calm one. An hour ago he sent for an asupu – a physician. Asupus are called when there isn’t much hope.
Admat, the One, the All, pity my pado and me. Let Mati stay with us a little longer. As You wish, so it will be.
There is no sign from Admat. The altar flame is steady. My prayer pulses through my mind, under my other thoughts.

I’m not confident in the usefulness of this example. It’s only one scene, and everybody works differently. My problem is rarely awkward writing; it’s getting the stories and the characters right. I head off in wrong directions and write lovely scenes that I adore and mourn when I have to amputate them. In my last three novels, Ever among them – I may have mentioned this earlier in the blog – I’ve had trouble making my main character likable. A lot of my revising has gone to making her someone a reader can identify with. I don’t think this is an issue, however, in the scene above.

To get a really solid idea of the way I wander around until I get things right, one would have to go through all my drafts. It may be possible actually to do this for an author you love. The Kerlan collection at the University of Minnesota holds drafts of children’s literature and I believe there are other libraries that do the same. I’ve donated to Kerlan, but never enough for a thorough reconstruction.

If you’re in a critique group, you could share notes and outlines with one another. If you’re not, you might ask other writers you know how they revise. And it’s worthwhile to look through your own past work and outlines and notes to understand your personal mysterious process. Have fun!

  1. Not methodical in my methods, either. But it might be interesting to know that my process is so similar to yours that it's kind of scary!

    (Of course, wishing my end products were similar…..)

    Thanks for the post!


  2. How do you choose the point of view for a particular story, and what, to you, are the pros and cons of 1st person versus 3rd person POV?

    My last novel was in the 3rd person, but my work in progress is (currently) in 1st person. I can't seem to get the voice right–it feels a bit pretentious, to tell the truth, because I'm trying to write a lyrical piece–and I've considered going back to the 3rd person. Do certain novels scream a particular POV to you as you're working on them? I noticed in this post that you bounced around in the POV you chose until you selected the "right" one. How did you know which POV to choose?

    Thanks for this very informative post!


  3. This is such an interesting process to read about – thank you, Gail, for sharing your drafts! I get myself through the painful process of first drafts with word count goals, and a lot of times those words are just me describing the scene to myself. At first I thought it was cheating, but then I realized later it was just part of my process.

  4. Thank you for sharing your work on the blog…it is very helpful to the novice (and professional, as well, I would guess).

    I am trying to follow the process in Writing Magic and today did the exercise on page 9.
    (The one where someone finds a necklace or whatever on a bus or whatever).

    "This crappy bus smells like vomit," Sherman thought as he walked by the driver. He continued down the aisle past seats filled with kids who looked the other way as he searched for a place to sit.
    There was one near the back with a little girl in it. When Sherman sat down, the girl practically flew across the aisle and scrunched in with two girls there. When the girls tried to butt her out she grabbed the edge of the seat and wouldn't budge…she wasn't about to sit with Sherman Bockskutter.
    "Good riddance," Sherman thought. "More room for me. I don't want to sit with some stinky girl anyway."
    Ever since the incident Sherman found himself with lots more room…room at the lunch table, more room at the theatre and, of course, more room on the bus.
    Sherman wriggled back and forth trying to make himself comfortable. He figured that they must take the cots that are too hard for jail and install in school buses. He had just about settled in when, "eeEYYooow!"
    Sherman jumped up with both hands on his butt. Everyone turned to look at him at laughed but just for a moment. When they saw who it was they turned back to their important conversations.
    Sherman looked down at the seat to see what had caused this pain in the rear. In the crack of the seat (not his) he saw something shiny. He sat back down and pulled the object out. It glittered in the morning sun and had a large pin attached to it (the source of Sherman's pain).
    It was a brooch. It looked similar to one that his grammy had shown to him. She said it belonged to her grandmother.

    That's it…that's the twenty minute version.

    The reason I include it here is regarding the way I work. I am sort of willy nilly and have said that I will make an outline for my next chapter book. In fact, I thought I should go back to the one I am working on and outline it to clarify some things for myself. However…
    While doing this exercise this morning I began to feel that I could work this into the intro of the current book. The book is about two kids who find a magic robe…I haven't been too thrilled with the characters, their relationship and above all, the intro. This character is already more appealing to me and the brooch, well, it could have the same attributes as the robe…and as for the second character, that's wide open right now.
    If this works it's one up for willy nilly.

    And I love Ella Enchanted (…you sure can write!
    Pat Gibbs

  5. Thanks for all the comments!

    Kim, I'll look at my chapter on POV in WRITING MAGIC and see what I can add in my next post.

    Pat, I'm glad you had success with the prompt. I like the name Sherman Bockskutter.

  6. This post was fascinating to me. I generally plot/outline fairly throughly before writing, but am having trouble doing that with the book I'm currently writing. It's a scary feeling to be winging it more than usual.

  7. Hi, My name is Addie (this is my mom's blog address)anyway… I'm a sixth grader and I'm working on an English assigment. I've chosen to do my Auther Study on you. I've written a letter that I would like to send to you but I haven't found an address for you. I know you're very busy but I was hoping you could tell me where I can mail my letter to. Do you have an agent or should I just send it to your publisher? If you could get back to me when you get a moment I would really appreciate it. Thanks, Addie (fan)

  8. I decided that I would like to keep a log of the activities inspired by "Writing Magic."
    I would like to name the blog patgibbs' writing magic post and enter everything pertaining to my interaction with your book.
    Thought I better check with you first…does that sound okay?

  9. Nola–You can write to me care of Jena Jascoe, HarperCollins Children's Books, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
    Pat–A Writing Magic writing blog sounds terrific! Just please don't quote big chunks of the book. And if you ever feel like mentioning this blog, I would love it.

  10. Thanks, Gail…only the writing prompts and my response to them.
    And I will definitely mention this blog. It is so amazing to be in direct contact with a writer such as yourself…no sucking up intended:)
    And,BTW, is there some way to follow this blog?

  11. Wow, I just stumbled apon your blog, and I, at fourteen, remember growing up reading Ella Enchanted and the Two Prinesses Of Bamarre with my best friend…then going down into my basement to act out (very similar) stories.

    Anyways, I'm going to be participating in NaNoWriMo (How I found the link) this year, and was planning to write something fantasy (For the first time). So reading through your blog has helped me a lot with it…I have a similar style of writing – I try and figure out who the characters are, and the setting first, then hope that a plot figures itself out as I go. So…thanks!

    And I'll try and see if I can find your book, Writing Magic :]

  12. This is exactly what I meant! Thanks!

    From what most authors say about their writing process, I thought for a long time that what most writer's wrote in their first draft, even if they were winging it, was something like first story fragment you used as an example (which was a least the second thing you wrote about this scene), if not even more like what they ended up with in the finished book.

    The perfectionist in me was having a very hard time with that. 🙂

    (Oh, and the last couple of days I've had fun playing around with a picture book manuscript that I started as a result of a writing prompt in WRITING MAGIC. A nice diversion.)

  13. Sure,Erin. I started it yesterday. I've posted three prompt exercises and hope to post something every few days. The way to get to it is to go to and click on my blog pat gibbs' writing magic posts. I will probably change the structure of the blog as I go but essentially it is a place to keep a record of the goings on in relation to "Writing Magic." I have several books (from PB's to chapter books) in the works and I seemed to be sort of stuck in one place or another on each. Who better to unstick me than the author of "Ella Enchanted."

    Oh, yeah…I just thought of something else. I guess you could just click on my name in this blog and get there that way.

  14. Hi Gail

    When you wrote Ella Enchanted, a seven years later they made a movie out of it. Fairest was came out in 2006, do you think that book will turn into a movie in 2013? [seven years later]
    I REALLY hope so!
    And when you did the blog part about the ELLA ENCHANtED movie, you said you protested against the evil uncle and talking snake. In a bunch of years do you think that that movie will be re-taken like "the lion the witch and the wardrobe."
    I still think the books are fantastic, but i also like seeing what happens in the book. Even though i can still picture it in my head.
    hope to hear from you.


  15. Pat–If you click on "Follow this blog" at the top of the page, you should be able to follow it. I hope you will!
    Lizzy–I wish FAIREST would be made into a movie, but no one at this point has expressed interest. If anybody knows somebody who's a producer or a director, I have lots of available books.

  16. Hi Gail! I love all of your books!
    I was wondering what you do when you get writers block (if you get writers block.) How do you get your imagination up and running again?

  17. Hi Gail
    These producers these days don't know what they are missing.
    Fairest would be an awesome movie.
    Maybe as we type they are having a convention on who get to direct it.
    Garry Marshall is a great producer, but i don't know his personally.

  18. Hi! I love your posts, as you are my FAVORITE author in the world! I am kind of young, so I don't have any real books. However, I am writing a book, and what I do is I just start writing it on the computer, and go back and make changes.


  19. I like that you use the word "maybe" a lot in your notes. I do the same. That simple act of writing "maybe" helps me to not limit myself in the early stages of plot development.

    Thanks so much for this post! It's very helpful to get a glimpse of your notes and early drafts.

    Oh, and I should tell you: After reading your last post, I decided to stop with the extensive planning and to just wing it for a while. Well, I've written more in the last few days than I had written in the whole month before that. And I like where things are going. So thank you, thank you!

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