Writing Process: A Sculpting Metaphor (With Monsters!)

[This mini is from from one of the monsters from Studio McVey’s new Sedition Wars game.  The kickstarter for the game is funding on Saturday, and is a phenomenal deal for the gorgeous minis involved.  The McVey’s are amazing painters and industry veterans.]


As I’m working through a first draft these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about how little of the book actually makes it into one of my first drafts.  There’s too much tell when there should be shown.   There’s too much inner monologue when there should be dialogue.  My characters say what they mean when they should hedge.  My main character announces the intentions of others when they should be show in physical details.  The scenes aren’t getting anywhere near where they need to be.

In fact, it’s a lot like Drew’s process when he sculpts a mini.  He starts with an armature, which looks nothing like the finished product.

Here is an image of an armature by Jacques-Alexandre Gillois, who is one of the best mini sculptors in the world.

In that photo, the metal parts are the basic armature.  These are built out of wire and solder in the basic shape of the critter.  The wire armature is like my outline–a sparse foundation on which I’m going to build the rest of my story.

The green bits bulk up the armature, creating a thicker foundation on which the sculptor is going to place the underlying anatomy.  Believe it or not, this completed armature is about as much like the final sculpt as my first draft is like the final mini.  The basic shape is there.  It’s kind of neat looking.  You can believe it is going to turn into something.  But it’s not there yet.  Everything you can see is just a placeholder for the better details that will be brought out in revision.

And then I revise, adding details.  So does Gillois.   See the finished mini here.    Also an explanation of the sculpting process.  Notice how the mini looks like it could be finished several steps before it actually is.  Writing is deceptive that way, too.  A finished product is usually several steps past where it looks like it could be done.

I’ve been told by some that it’s smart not to have word counts when you’re drafting, because you should focus on quality, not quantity.  I’ve been told that it’s stupid to try to write a book quickly, when you could be focusing on turning out a fine product.  But here’s the thing: I can’t make my first drafts turn out pretty the first time any more than Drew can make his first go-round on a mini look like a finished product.  The result would be a wad of goo with details but no underlying structure.  For me, books are written in layers.  It doesn’t matter how long or short a time I spend on the first draft.  It’s still going to be nothing more than an armature.

But the armature is vital to the finished product.  If the armature is wrong, the final mini’s anatomy will be wrong, and there will be nothing to do but cut off the offending parts and start them over.

As Gillois works through the process, the mini gets more and more detailed.  He starts with the basic form, and then fleshes it out.  If he needs an armature, it’s okay for me to need one, too.