Saturday, September 30, 2006

Drafting the Ugly Draft

I orignally began this as a response to Kelly's post, but it grew enough that it seemed to warrant becoming a separate post of its own.

As Kelly says, I tend to leave my first draft alone as it takes form. This is mainly for the simple reason that if I went back to "fix" things, I would never get beyond chapter three. I would fix, and re-fix, and re-re-fix forever. For me, it is push on to the end, then go back and straighten out whatever train wrecks may have happened along the way.

The first main exception to this is if I come to a point in the story where what is happening on the page now requires major changes to what has come previously. Even then, I may simply make a note in my Revision Notebook, adjust the outline, and keep pushing on. Or I may go back and rework the last 200 pages. But unless that latter is absolutely necessary, I try to do the former.

Ideally, of course, this kind of mid-story revision shouldn't happen since I outline, but I tend to put equal empahsis on plot and character. This means that one can serve the other, or vice versa, depending on where I am in the story. Plot usually over-rules character, but I find that isn't always the case.

The second exception to not going back is my habit of sometimes revising the last two pages I wrote before moving ahead. That mainly happens if I am stuck, or really not happy with what came before. The main focus, though, is always on moving forward.

Overall, I tend to be fairly generous with myself when it comes to the first draft (the phrase "kitchen sink" comes to mind :). However, in the second draft, I approach the MS with a gleam in my eye and machete in my hand. It may be more work than following a harder outline like Kelly does, or revising on the fly like both Kelly and Lyda, but it's the method that I am most comfortable with at present.

As to for Erik's comments on what to cut: well, part comes from feedback from the Wyrdsmiths (although I don't always listen to them :); part comes from my gut (does something feel right?); and part comes from cold, hard analysis of deciding if a scene/action/sub-plot really serves a core purpose. If it doesn't advance the plot or tell me something important about the character that we don't already know (and is relevant to the story at that point in the book), it shoud probably go.

Caveat: The above goes with the understanding that other people may have other core purposes when making revision decisions, depending on their focus. If a person is more of an idea writer (the story is there to hang a cool concept on), then the focus may be on the scene presenting another facet of the central concept; if they are more of a world builder, then pieces that further illuminate the depth of setting may need to stay; if they are a hard science writer, then the nuts and bolts of how things work may be critical. What I consider core is what is most important for my story, but may by no means be a critical consideration in another author's process.

Ultimatley, drafts and revisions, IMO, are all about making the story stronger. The tricky part is developing the craft to figure out just what will accomplish that. And that learning curve never ends.


Kelly McCullough said...

Nice post. The stuff about core purposes and cutting is just about perfect. And, yeah the revise as you go model only works for some. That's one of the things that I find endlessly fascinating about process discussions is how wildly different roads can all lead to the same end: An outstanding book.

Mari Adkins said...

I would fix, and re-fix, and re-re-fix forever.

I used to be bad for that. Now, I write everything out longhand, and if I find any glaring mistakes, I correct them as I type that particular bit into Word - sometimes I go through and add/remove bits, too, as I type. I print out by chapter and stick those into my "current writing binder". I've tried to learn to let the stuff in the binder just sit there, but sometimes it gnaws at me - especially if I know something is out of whack. I've done better with this on my third book, though. Maybe I'm finally learning. ;-)

Maybe. LOL

Right now I'm going through the binder chapter by chapter doing line edits - and I have a long list of things that need to be added that I've left out. I've written this story totally out of order (did that with book two, as well, but this one even moreso), so there's big gaps in places.

Once I get all that taken care of and get everything back together, I'll send it out to my readers. When it comes back, I'll read through everyone's suggestions, and go from there. After I've made those revisions, I'll send it to my agent, who'll tell me if it sucks or not. ;-)

adjust the outline

I don't really outline. I create what I call a "working outline" combined with a "working timeline" - it's more long blocks of information written when and where I think certain things need to occur. Of course, all this gets moved around, taken out, added to, etc over the course of the actual writing.

if they are more of a world builder

I fall somewhere between here and "character novelist" - I've been told.

Mari Adkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mari Adkins said...

sorry for the deletion. my post duped.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I work very hard to not revise as I'm writing. I'm vastly more productive that way, and with the amount of time I can devote to writing and still stay employed, married, and living in some reasonable facsimile of sanitation, that's important.

If there is something I think needs changing, I'll note it in as few words as possible at the end of whatever I'm working on. I try to put my notes far enough down that I can't see them while I'm working. Then, when I'm petering out of energy or ideas for writing forward, I'll scroll down to my list. Often, at least two or three things will strike me as simple enough to get out of the way right then, adding to my productivity for that session without keeping me from writing new stuff.

Major revisions wait until the piece is getting cleaned up for critique or for sending out--unless I come up with an idea that strikes me as so brilliant that I'll never be able to duplicate it if I don't write it down right now. You can guess how often that gets in the way of finishing something.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Oh, the one exception to that is if I'm coming back to something I haven't worked on in a while. Then I find that spending a little time revising first is really helpful in picking up the voice of the story as I move on.