Word Vomit. Show up and throw up. The Vomit Draft. We’ve all heard the vomit analogies for first drafts—writers are nothing if not descriptive.
I’m not really going to tell you how to get from vomit to the second draft. Unless I’ve read your work and understand your writing process, my advice would only be more word vomit. I also can’t guarantee the 187 steps. Sometimes it’s more steps, sometimes fewer—it depends on the quality of the initial vomit.
In other words, the title of this piece is a lie.
Now, don’t go away mad. I do have something to offer. An invitation. Take a peek at the two passages below, an example of word vomit turned final draft, with explanatory comments about the changes.
Excerpts are from my historical romance, A Wicked Way to Win an Earl, coming from Berkley in November 2015.
Word Vomit Draft
This passage was originally part of Chapter 10, but it ended as part of Chapter 18 because Chapter 10 was too soon in the book for Alec to be this much in love with Delia. My initial draft rushed the relationship between hero and heroine, and you can’t hurry love.
Alec paused then, recalling Miss Somerset’s next words and how furious they made him. “She told me that she did not (Needs a contraction) come here with any intent to marry Robyn, but that after today, perhaps she would reconsider.” (Alec is supposed to be drunk in this scene. This piece of dialogue sounds too formal and logical for a drunken gentleman).
He expected Lady Catherine to be as angry as he was, so he was taken aback when a small smile touched her lips. “She actually (do we need this adverb) said that?”
“Not in so many words,” Alec replied glumly (Another adverb?). “But yes—that was the essence of it.”
Lady Fiona shook her head, that odd little smile still on her lips. “I see. And so now you are concerned that Miss Somerset will encourage Robyn’s attentions?” (Dead dialogue)
“I am (Contraction) concerned that (Get rid of unnecessary ‘that’) she already is!” Alex exploded, furious all over again. (Awkward dialogue tag) “Didn’t you notice her behavior at dinner?”
His mother blinked uncomprehendingly (Warning – adverb limit has now been exceeded). Then with a little shrug she reached over and took his hand. “What do you intend to do now? Perhaps it would be best if you stepped aside.”
Now. He was going to throw his whiskey glass now.
Step aside? Surrender those soft pink lips to Robyn? Was she mad? (Alec should reply to her here, but he doesn’t reply to her at all in the rest of the scene. Needs dialogue)
Lady Fiona looked carefully (Adverb) into her son’s face. Whatever she saw there made her shake her head. Instead of pursuing the subject, she rose and walked to the door. “I will leave it to you then, Alec. Good evening.” (Dead dialogue – this doesn’t add to the scene or the characterization – it’s unnecessary).
Alec didn’t notice her leave. He sat in front of the fire for another hour, drinking scotch and trying (There are too many ‘ings’ verbs here) to remember why he objected to Miss Somerset as a match for Robyn. He thought it had something to do with Robyn kissing her—or about pink lips and bluebell eyes and whether or not she wore face paint. (I like this line – I ended up using it in another scene).
Was that it? He couldn’t quite remember anymore. (Too dense – would play better with more dialogue).
Post Word-Vomit Version
The major change in the post-vomit draft is the secondary character. In the first draft, Alec is speaking with his mother, Lady Catherine Sutherland. I changed it to a conversation with his best friend, Lord Archibald, because this scene follows a painful scene between the hero and heroine, and I wanted a lighter touch here.
The scene is longer now and I’ve focused on “show, don’t tell” in the revision because I’m aware that too much “tell” is a weakness of mine. I’ve cleaned up dialogue tags, switched to action tags where possible, deleted some of the adverbs and “ing” words, and changed the dialogue to reflect the characters’ state of mind.
“Then she said she hadn’t come here to marry Robyn, but after today she might reconsider,” Alec ground out. He’d flown into a fit of savage, jealous rage then, and had stopped just shy of showing her who she truly belonged to— (Shows his jealousy and possessiveness)
Alec took a deep, unsteady breath and drained the rest of the whiskey from his glass. Even now, remembering her words, he felt fury rise again, like bile in his throat. (Sensory appeal)
Alec had forgotten Archie was even in the room with him and was taken aback when he heard him chuckle. “She actually said that?”
“Not in so many words,” Alec muttered. “But yes. That’s what she meant.”
“Ah.” Archie nodded. “And now you’re embracing your whiskey like a long-lost lover because you think she’s going to encourage Robyn’s attentions?” (Dialogue here reveals Archie’s character)
Alex exploded again. (Action tag instead of a dialogue tag) “She’s already encouraging him! Didn’t you see her at dinner? She was practically sitting in Robyn’s lap.” (Much more visual than ‘behavior at dinner” in the original).
Archie blinked at him. “No, Carlisle. I confess I didn’t see Miss Somerset enthroned on Robyn’s lap at dinner this evening. I can’t think how I missed it.” (Archie’s reaction emphasizes how ridiculous and jealous Alec sounds).
Alec shrugged. Then he picked up Archie’s whiskey glass and drank the contents in one swallow. “Me either. “S’matter with you, Archie?” (Now Alec sounds drunk).
Archie sighed. “What do you intend to do now? Perhaps it would be best if you stepped aside.”
Alec stared at him. Now. He was going to throw his whiskey glass now. “The devil I will.” (Alec can curse now that he’s talking to Archie instead of Lady Catherine. This dialogue sounds more believable for a drunk, jealous hero).
He sloshed more whiskey into his glass.
Archie got to his feet (Action tag). “Very well, Carlisle. I’ll leave it to you, then.” He placed his whiskey glass on the table, then picked up the bottle and handed it to Alec. “Here. You’re going to need this.”
Alec didn’t notice Archie leave. He sat in front of the fire, drank whiskey and tried to remember why he’d objected to Delia as a match for Robyn in the first place. Didn’t it have something to do with the beau monde tittering about the Sutherlands in every drawing room in London? (More descriptive and appeals to sense of sound) Was that it? Odd. He couldn’t quite remember anymore.
He frowned. Concentrate. It had something to do with Robyn. He didn’t want Robyn to kiss Delia. He was damn sure of that much. Or touch her. (Short sentences with impact).
Orlookatherortalktoherorwalkwithherormakeherlaughorsmellherhairortasteheroranythingelseher. (Slurred thoughts – he’s drunk. This sets up the next scene, which is a love scene with Delia. The reader sees that he’s lost control because of the whiskey – anything could happen!)
Ah, yes. He smiled happily at his glass. That was it.
And there you have it – from word vomit to second draft, and in fewer than 187 steps. What will you do with your word vomit today?