I can't believe it's been nearly 10 days since I posted, mainly because I don't know where those 10 days have gone. They were mainly spent doing a feverish rewrite for a competition, which ended in an all-nighter. 8 hours, one chair. One very stiff, sore body.
Every time I end up writing a first draft, I make a better job of cleaning up mistakes before they're written. I do an outline, think about the characters and try to see a through-line for the main character to follow.
But I still have a long way to go. Sure, your first draft will never be perfect. But you need to give yourself the best possible chance to avoid pitfalls from the start and in my case, the main answer to this is cards.
You take a certain number of index cards, write scenes on them and lay 'em out in four rows. One row for Act 1, two rows for the two halves of Act 2 and a final one for Act 3. There's some discussion about how many scenes should be in each Act (Syd Field says 14, Blake Snyder says 10), but I try to err on the low side. I know my faults lie in Act 2 - and specifically in having too many scenes in the two halves of that Act.
Once you've finished laying out your rows, it's a case of head scratching and moving things around, sometimes for days. Is everything in the right place or do you need to move things up? Or take some scenes out altogether? Then you do the outline, and write the script. Make no mistake, there will still be changes to be made, and lots of them. But the basic structure will hopefully be taken care of.
I hate doing cards because usually by that time it comes to do them, I'm raring to go and write the script. And the cards have a horrible habit of exposing gaps in your grand plan, gaps that haunt you and make you zone out of conversations. If you've ever thought writers were vague and crazy, we're not. We're just tormented by story holes :)
From here on in, it's cards first, script second. And when I finish my next first draft, hopefully I'll be glad I've gotten the haunting out of the way...