Writing a Novel: First Draft Sample

During the Second Draft and Beyond article, I mentioned I’d give you examples of the iterative editing process we go through while writing a novel. This week I make good on that promise.

The following is a simple scene I will be working on for the next few weeks. For this first article, you’ll have the roughest version, the first draft. There will be mistakes, things that don’t add anything to the story and things that simply don’t work, much like there are in every first draft. As I mentioned in that article, the point of a first draft is just to get to the end. Next week, I’ll have a more polished version of it and the week after that a finalised and streamlined edition.

Do note that I have intentionally made storytelling mistakes with this draft, to make it as rough as possible. There are things you’ll pick up immediately and shake your head disapprovingly. But before you judge, wait until the next few weeks when I’ll be turning this first draft into something workable and worth reading!

This scene is for the Melvin Backbreaker story concept I outlined weeks ago.


There were days when Melvin hated his job. He was good at it, mind you, but he just loathed being a clerk sometimes. As he looked up at the burly, greasy-haired man and heard his abuse, he sighed deeply and tried to keep his best smile on his face.

The man complained about the unneeded bureaucracy, the roundabout way of doing even the simplest of things. Melvin agreed with him apologetically and raised his hands and shrugged, in a “what can you do?” kind of way. Personally, Melvin didn’t mind it, he always enjoyed order, even if it had to be in triplicate and with accompanying forms and stamps.

He opened his drawer and produced a handy guide he’d written months before, with the steps needed for almost every occasion, with the forms listed, the documents required and the processing times. He handed it to the man and hoped he would thank him and most importantly, leave.

“Breaker!” He heard his nickname called from behind him. No one called him by his surname, Backbreaker, because they thought it was silly. Melvin turned and saw the message clerk come by with a large brown envelope for him. He was just handing a few letters to Matilda, Melvin’s co-worker, friend and he wished much more. “Letter from your solicitor!”

“I don’t have a solicitor.” He said dismissively.

“Well, then your pa’s, but you got this anyway!”

Grumbling, Melvin left his post, apologising to the next person in line, a vehement old woman clutching her bag like a deadly weapon, the intent of using it clear in the malicious glint in her eye.

He almost ripped the envelope from the clerk’s hand, much to Matilda’s surprise, she’d never seen him in such a bad mood. “What does the old fool want now?” He complained, mostly to himself, but as he’d said it too loud, all eyes were on him.

He carelessly ripped into the envelope and pulled out a letter, noticing it came with a stack of documents. Probably some family paperwork I have no intention on signing.

The letter was concise and to the point. Austin Backbreaker was dead and in the envelope were the instructions Melvin needed to follow according to his father’s will. He stared at the letter for the longest time and to anyone else it might seem as if he were unable to process what had happened, but inside, he struggled with how to act. He’s dead, good riddance! He mused, but struggled to look content or happy even. Their estrangement was no secret, but no one knew just how bad things were between them.

“Breaker, everything ok?” The clerk asked.

“My father died.” He said, trying to sound shocked and numb, but the only thing that surprised him was how long it had taken.

His coworkers all approached to say how sorry they were, and in that, Melvin remained impassive, seeming stunned, but he just didn’t care.

While talking to co-workers, accepting Matilda’s support and simply nodding when people told him comforting words, he read the Will. Inside were a series of steps:

  • Travel to the Backbreaker estate on Macallum. You must arrive before the 22nd of April.
  • You will find all travel documents and arrangements enclosed.
  • You will be briefed on the details of the inheritance process on arrival by Ducky, your father’s Butler.
  • If you perform the required tasks to satisfaction, the entirety of the Backbreaker estate will be transferred to you.

Melvin went over the documents and it was just as the instructions mentioned, there were visas and even interplanetary flight tickets. They were set for tomorrow. He didn’t like his father, but the inheritance would help him quit the job and never have to look back again. In a day like this, his father dying was the best news he could’ve received.

He quickly turned and looked for his supervisor. He was in his office.

Melvin graciously pushed past his coworkers and into his Adrian Thomas’ office. “Breaker, what do you want?” He said bitterly, putting out a cigarette on the overflowing ashtray.

Melvin wished he was a better actor and could cry on demand, but just looked straight into his boss’ face. “My father died…I need to go take care of everything.” He said flatly, offering no details but handing over the solicitor’s letter, keeping the instructions to himself. “I’m taking my holidays for this…all of them.” He said, and Thomas’ eyes widened. Melvin had over two months’ worth of saved holidays. Their ministry had never set up a cut-off point for accumulated free time, as no one ever took much time off.

Melvin could see how much his supervisor wanted to deny the admittedly big request, but then he noticed everyone else was at the door, Matilda at the front and they were all glaring. Thomas sighed and nodded. “Just let us know how things go with everything, ok?” Melvin nodded. “And I am sorry for your loss, Breaker. If you need anything, let us know.”

“Thank you.”

Melvin picked up his things, gave Matilda a big hug, bit down what he’d wanted to tell her for years now, as he always did, and left to pack his bags.

He didn’t remember much of the estate, but the nightmares had always been vivid.

Come back next week when I’ll be showing you the Second Draft of this scene while pointing out all the mistakes in this one!

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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