My kids love going to the LEGO store. They eyeball all of their favorite sets, the big ones that end up on their wish lists for birthdays and holidays. They play in the mini figure bin, and concoct absurd combinations of tops, bottoms, hats, and props that make sense to their inner narrative. For me, I like the bins in the back, where I can grab fistfuls of various bits and fill a container for a fixed price. There’s no directions, no pre-sorted sets, just dozens of curious widgets like hinges, joints, antennae, and engines that I can cobble together from my imagination.
LEGO bricks aren’t cheap, so to get the best value, I have to fill that cup as densely as possible, creating what I call the LEGO Parfait.
First, I start with the tiny bits, like studs, flowers, and 1×1 flats, as they fill the little trench at the bottom of the cup. Similar to the professor’s story of fitting everything in, I’ll next add a few plates, long bricks, or bigger, bulky parts. I’ll plug the gaps with mid-size bricks, then fill in the smaller spaces with more tiny trinkets. Layer by layer, I’ll pack that cup to the top until there is as little air as possible in it. If there were LEGO bricks the size of sand grains, I’d thrown those in too.
When I get home, I’ll spill that on the floor and sort them out, and my daughters and I will start creating weird ships, animals, people, or mechanisms—again, whatever fits with our made up stories.
I’ve learned that my writing process is similar, but in reverse. The first draft is getting all the details down—all the people, technology, and motivations—putting that in a rough order that makes a story in three acts. But it’s loose, like the LEGO bricks spread all over the floor. This rough draft is just that—it’s ugly, it blathers, it’s full of mistakes and wastes a reader’s time. It’s probably got way more detail than I need, yet lacks critical information to make it work.
The first revision (or second draft) is compacting all that information into a digestible format, filling the holes, and weeding out the unnecessary parts. It’s the same story, the same details, people, technology and motivations, but I’m hopefully using fewer words and fewer sentences and communicating more efficiently.
The second revision (third draft) fixes all the things my beta readers flagged, and condenses the language even more.
The third revision (final draft) fixes the thousands of tiny things my copy editor found, which I’d missed so many times before, all the sins that would trigger a grammar & style aficionado. At the end of it, I have (I hope) a condensed story that draws you in, moves quickly, and gives you just enough information to keep reading until the end. It’s dense, like the fully filled LEGO cup, and hopefully packed full of entertainment.