Drafts and Edits, Edits and Drafts

- by ria, on Friday, 28th May 2010, 8:15pm

As you may have noticed from the sidebar, I am half way through draft 3, so editing is on my mind. And since I’m thinking about it a lot, I figured I’d write a post about it. You’d think the first post containing actual helpful content would have something to do with setting up for writing – creating characters, world building – but no. I like to do things a bit different.

Anyway. Editing and the sequence of drafts.
When I was younger, I thought the difference between the first and second drafts was that the second draft had been spell-checked, sentences flowed nicely. The second draft was just the first draft but easier to read. That was before I actually sat down and wrote a first draft. That was when my writing had been confined to ‘essays’ and short stories. Safe and dull little pieces that weren’t long enough, or complex enough, to develop plot holes.

Enter the novel written over seven months, four continents, and numerous A4 pads and I quickly realised the editing would need quite a bit more than just a proofread. It would need a second draft. This was when I figured out that a draft is not just fixing up the language, it is changing the plot, characters, setting in order to convey the story I wanted to tell.

Each draft, I have learned, is significantly different from the one previous. Draft 2 of my novel was about 80% different from draft 1. I removed and rewrote most of the thing, keeping only a few paragraphs that contained the essence of the story. I completely changed the world and the races in it. So while the setting was similar, most chapters had to be rewritten to reflect the changes. Draft 3 is the same, though not as drastic. Only about 10% has been rewritten, this draft involves writing new content – better descriptions, deepening the characters and setting, working on pacing (a post for another day – pacing is a beast I have yet to tame).

You might think, ‘Well, I’m organised. I know what my world is like, and how my characters work.’ I promise you, 100,000 words and a good few months from now, that will change. And if it doesn’t you might want to leave it alone for a year, come back to it and see if it does. Because, in my experience (which is pretty limited, I will give you that), the first draft is usually made up of the first idea that came into your head as you wrote. Your characters have some cool attributes, some cool swag, now you need them to get into some sort of adventure. So you work something out, probably put a lot of thought into it, but you can’t possibly know all the twists and turns. As you write, more ideas will come to you. Better ideas. The ending might need set-up or foreshadow earlier on that you didn’t know about when you wrote the first draft. You might need a new character to fill in a role that you didn’t plan for. Loads can happen over 100,000 words.

So what I am saying is: go into your first draft knowing it will change. Write it like it doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t. Anywhere between 50 and 90% will be trashed and rewritten anyway. Use this inherent attribute of the first draft to have fun. Play around with it. You have more freedom at this stage than anywhere else in the novel-writing process. And when it comes time to start on the second draft, look at what you have, cut anything that doesn’t feel 100% good to you, and come up with a better idea. And again, write like it doesn’t matter (but try to stay true to your core idea / story). You can keep coming up with better ideas in the next draft.

It is not until the final draft, until you are 100% sure of everything on every page, that you can start editing for language. Do not tidy up one sentence or trim one paragraph until you are very sure that you will be keeping it. Because there is nothing worse than having to cut a perfectly worded sentence, one you slaved over to get just right. Wait until the final draft to polish, and you can keep all your gems.

tags: ,
category: writing

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