How to write the first draft of the story

15 Aug


We know all too well that feeling of putting pen to paper or sitting poised in front of the keyboard, all set to hammer out this story that moved us so much when, blank!

The perfect first line that we would like for the story will just not form. And because we wait for that elusive first line, the story refuses to take shape from the rubble of our memory.

For people working in not-for-profit organisations, this is a daily battle. Beautiful stories confront us each day. And not all of us are writers – we are doctors, planners, preachers, health experts, educationists, programme experts, data analysts, researchers… it’s an endless list of specialist skills. But in the course of our workday, we see these uplifting stories all around us.

How can we capture that story and tell it with passion, so that somewhere in the office, a fundraiser can use that story to give other people the opportunity to be part of that story? For many small NGOs, there’s no fundraiser out there in the office. We ourselves must find a way to tell the story.

So here are a few tips on how to get the first draft of that story down.

Ray Bradbury, in Zen in the Art of Writing, says:

“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. The zest and gusto of his need… will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”

In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about how to tell a story. Recall the rush of emotion that you felt when you saw it, and write it down. Write it in the language of your heart. Write it also in the language in which you think. So if English is not your natural language, write it in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali or whatever comes naturally to you. This is critical. Writing the first draft in your own language ensures that you get past the language impediment and tell the story as you would to your friend, your daughter, or your neighbor.

Put yourself in the character’s shoes and tell it like the character lived it.

Here’s a brilliant example from Indra Sinha for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (found on


“Please, I don’t like being a monster!”

Amir who’s eight sadly holds up his hands. His fingers are joined together as if he’s had an accident with a tube of superglue.

‘Who called you such a thing?’

‘A lady in Hamidia Road. She looked at me and said, Ugh! Too many monsters.’

‘Why do you listen? Don’t cry!’ said his mother. …

Amir is one of hundreds born damaged in a certain cluster of neighbourhoods in Bhopal. What all have in common is that they are near Union Carbide’s haunted, derelict factory.” (Story continues; this is an excerpt.)


Once the first draft is done, the next day, you can look at it through the eyes of a stranger (practise doing this) and edit it. Read it out to other people. Get some help. Get it translated into English, if required.

Bradbury continues:

“The history of each story, then, should read almost like a weather report: Hot today, cool tomorrow. This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour cold critical water upon the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire, too?”

So today, burn down the house. Write down the story exactly as you felt it. There’s plenty of time tomorrow to edit. And who knows, someone sitting far away in an office cubicle might read your story during his lunchtime and will catch fire too?

PS If this post has encouraged you to try and write a story, do send it to us at We will give you feedback on your story, and if you allow it, share it with others on this blog.


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