Saturday, September 30, 2006

Drafts and revisions, fixed or mutable?

A conversation that's been going on in the comments seemed interesting enought to move out to a front page post. It's about drafts and revisions among other things.

I know a number of writers who work like Erik, who said of first drafts, unless I make a major discovery along the way or I screw something up massively I try to leave my work alone as much as possible. That number includes (I think) Wyrdsmiths' own Doug Hulick. I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong. This produces a pretty distinct first draft.

Another school is one in which the writer is constantly making changes that ripple up and down the line. Lyda and I both do this. So I don't really have a first draft, because I'm contantly making changes that then necessitate further changes throughout everything written so far, and because I do those changes at the time they occur to me. One part of the rough draft might have gone through ten revisions while another came straight off the keyboard and has never been touched.

I was talking about that with Sean on thursday night and about how it affected and infromed character. He was saying that one of the reasons that some writers might not want to force a character into doing something necessary for the plot but unnatural to their internal makeup is that they feel it might make the character flatter and more limited. That idea struck me as very odd, and I realized something about my process. I trust the plot (the story) more than I trust the character.

So, if I get to a critical point and I've built a character who, for lack of a bettter term, doesn't want to do something it means (to me) that I made a mistake in crafting the character, so I go back and change the character's past to make their actions in the present make sense. I don't try to force the character to do something unnatural, I revise the character to make it natural. And one of the reasons it's easy for me to do this mentally is that my first draft is very mutable.

So, anyway, here are the stages I go through:

1. Drafting stage, in which nothing is terribly fixed, though I do outline and follow that outline fairly closely. This is a very mutable draft and informed by critique from my writers group(s).

2. Clean up and beta draft. The end result of this is supposed to be a pretty clear and polished version for first readers.

3. Submission draft, i.e. going out to my agent and editor after I've made the changes I find useful from first readers.

4. Final draft, the submission draft with whatever changes my agent, editor and I agree on.

So, what's your drafting and revision process. Do you first draft? And, more importantly, why do you do it the way you do?


Anonymous said...

My difficulty with drafts is that I can rewrite and ADD things but I have more trouble seeing what to cut out. I can do it, but it is painful. At some point in my life I may be publishing 5000 page novels, lol.

I write from character, not plot. And when I read I will stick with a book that has interesting characters but a weak plot. A book with a well-crafted, intricate, exciting plot and flat characters, though, loses my interest really quickly.

It's probably significant that, other than spec fic, I read and write in the "literary" genre most of the time. Raymond Carver is my hero.

Erik Buchanan said...

Thanks for the quote!

I think one of the reasons that I leave the first draft alone is that I don't use a outline.

I generally get the idea of a book in my head, I may write that idea down (i.e. The King Below: what if an archeologist found a castle buried intact with people alive in inside?) but that's it. The story takes itself wherever my twisted subconscious sends it, and I write it out as fast as I can.

The one time I will start editing a first draft (aside from the two mentioned in the quote) is if the writing process has gotten stuck. Then I will go back about 20 pages and start editing. It allows me to revisit where everyone has been and what has gone on, and generally gives me impetus to get moving again.

And munraven, you are right, cutting sucks. I keep a file on each of my books called "cut scenes" where I keep the good bits that I had to cut out because they didn't add something to the story.

There's a question: How do you decide what to cut and what to keep, beyond having your wife/husband/spouse/partner/best friend/first reader saying, "What is God's name were you thinking?"

Kelly McCullough said...

Muneraven, good point. I started to answer and realized that cutting is something worth talking about in a larger post. I'm going to chew on it for a bit and then toss up a post on the subject later.

Erik, the quote was my pleasure. I'm finding that he blog is a good tool for thinking about writing, and the many valuable comments we've been getting really help me focus and unchunk various processes.

~ Mari said...

One part of the rough draft might have gone through ten revisions while another came straight off the keyboard and has never been touched.

I'm largely like that. Of course, I'll have someone inevitably point out, "This part reads like a first draft." And I always say, "Because that part is."

I trust the plot (the story) more than I trust the character.

I'm the other way around.

~ Mari said...

Muneraven said, "A book with a well-crafted, intricate, exciting plot and flat characters, though, loses my interest really quickly.

I'm exactly the same way! Matter of fact, I have a book laying here on my desk for review, and I think I'm just going to send it back to the author. It's not really the type of book we review anyway, and on top of that, the characters were never fully developed. Cardboard characters hurt a story that could have been a whole lot more, imho.

Erik said, "How do you decide what to cut and what to keep?"

For me, I've learned to listen to myself as I read over the first complete draft. If something sticks out like a sore thumb, is too "cutesy", and/or just doesn't do anything to push the plot forward, out it goes. Well, not completely. Like you, I have a file where I dump "unused bits" - which sometimes find homes elsewhere unless they're just too cutesy or too corny (etc) to use.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty much a Newtonian writer. A story in motion remains in motion, and a story at rest remains at rest, unless an outside force acts upon me. I have to keep moving forward on a story, generally, or else I risk stalling the story.

I noted that Erik referred to "editing" a first draft along the way, and I think that may be a key to what we're talking about here. I, too, see the revision process as a form of "editing", whereas I think Kelly would think of it as just "writing". It's the interference of that more critical side of my thought processes that stops up the movement on the creative side.

So, that said, I very much tend to write through and then edit, with two exceptions. First, and also as Erik noted, I will go back and edit when a problem arises which stops the story from going forward. Second, I will go back and edit when there is a problem that has come up in Wyrdsmiths crituques that is going to have broader implications. If I can change the story ahead of time, it will save me that much more trouble, that many more revisions, later on.