Continuing our new series on First Drafts …
Blitzkrieg is German for “lightning war.” It’s a technique of battle that was developed in the ‘30s by certain German and British generals, foremost among them Heinz Guderian, and put into practice with spectacular success by the Germans in the assaults on France, Poland, and the Soviet Union at the start of WWII.
Blitzkrieg is also a great way to write the first draft of a novel.
The first principle of blitzkrieg is break through the enemy and drive as fast as you can into his rear areas.
In blitzkrieg, the attacking force stops for nothing. If it encounters heavy resistance in one area, it simply bypasses that area and keeps advancing. This works in war because the bypassed enemy, fearing it will be cut off from resupply and reinforcement, often packs up and runs without firing a shot.
Blitzkrieg is psychological as much as physical. The attacking force is energized and empowered by its orders to be aggressive, to strike hard and fast, to keep moving no matter what. The attacking force is fortified emotionally by the knowiedge that it possesses the initiative, it is dictating the action. The enemy can only react. We, the attacking force, can act.
This is exactly the mindset that the novelist needs in writing a first draft.
Those empty pages that lie before us … they are not neutral. They are dug in, ready and eager to resist us. Their power is Resistance. Those blank pages are the equivalent of hundreds of miles of barbed wire, minefields, bunkers and powerfully-entrenched defensive forces.
How are we going to overcome these forces, particularly when we ourselves may be outnumbered, outgunned, out-resourced?
Hit the enemy fast, hit him hard, get into his rear and throw his forces into confusion.
In last week’s post, we cited a technique described by novelist Matt Quirk. He calls it “using TK,” meaning the editor’s mark for “to come.” When we hit a difficult spot in our first draft, Matt says, simply write “TK” and keep moving. We’ll come back later, he says, and mop up that pocket of resistance.
This is blitzkrieg.
This is lightning war.
The weapons of blitzkrieg are illuminating for us novelists as well. They are weapons of speed and mobility, weapons meant to move fast rather than bring to bear overwhelming firepower. Tanks, aircraft (particularly dive bombers and fighter planes used in close support of ground troops), and mechanized infantry are the arms of blitzkrieg. Their role is not to pulverize the enemy in a straight-up slugfest, but to break through his defenses using speed and audacity and to drive as quickly and as deeply as possible into his rear areas.
That’s your job and mine as novelists in a first draft. Start fast. Roll hard. Stop for nothing. Bypass strongpoints of the enemy. Get to the final objective—THE END—as quickly as we can, even if it means we’re ragged and exhausted and running on fumes.
In June of 1967, the Israeli armored division under Gen. Israel Tal lay poised on the Egyptian frontier, knowing it was going to have to drive through seven enemy divisions to reach its objective, the Suez Canal, on the far side of the Sinai desert. Here is how Gen. Tal concluded his address to his troops:
Now I’m going to tell you something very severe. En brera. “No alternative.” The battle tomorrow will be life and death. Each man will assault to the end, taking no account of casualties. There will be no retreat. No halt, no hesitation. Only forward assault.
Our novel, yours and mine, is life and death too. The enemy, Resistance, will employ every ruse, every stratagem, every dirty trick to sap our will and break our momentum. His ally is time. The longer he can drag out the fight, the more likely you and I will be to run out of resources, to lose our will, to quit.
The last thing you and I want, embarking on the first draft of a novel or a screenplay, is to get bogged down in a war of attrition. Resistance is too strong. It will defeat us if we let it suck us into a grind-it-out struggle in the trenches.
Strike fast. Strike hard. Stop for nothing till you reach the objective.
Momentum is everything in a first draft.