While I haven’t yet started the hopefully-final draft of my current novel, I’ve learned a heck of a lot in the process of writing this book. The last novel I finished (six years ago) is a big wad of mistakes tangled around some good ideas, and it’s beyond me still how to extract the good stuff from the mess. So when I started the first draft of my new book – The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn – I took a very different approach.
In the past, I’ve agonized over rough drafts, trying to make them as close to final drafts as is humanly possible, the idea being to eliminate as much of the rewrite process as I could. Truth to tell, that’s worked great with short stories, but a novel is a whole different animal. The trouble with trying to write a perfect first draft is, it takes forever, and the content is not always as pertinent to the story as you thought it was at the time. You get too focused on the details, and lose sight of the big story. The details are much easier to go back in your rewrites and fix, though – mess up the big story, and you may never figure out how to untangle the good from the bad.
In addition to writing, I also dabble in graphite drawing. One thing I learned from drawing is, if you get the whole picture sketched out and make sure that everything is proportionate and that the composition is strong, then when you add the shading, you’ll end up with an excellent picture. If you start filling in shading before you’ve finished your outline, however, you’ll usually notice (eventually) that your perspective, proportion, and/or composition is off, and trust me, you will never get the picture to look right if you’ve already started the shading on a badly-done sketch.
So when I started my rough draft of The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn, I applied what I learned from visual art to written art – I thought of the first draft as a sketch. I did it quickly and stayed loose with it, making adjustments but not getting too attached to any one line, removed what didn’t work and didn’t fill in all the empty space (subplot) until I’d finished the main storyline.
My first round of rewrites was heavy work, but, for me, it’s much easier to add material than to cut it. I had lots of ideas for subplots, and tons of notes about the secondary characters and their backgrounds that I didn’t know whether to include in the manuscript or not during my whirlwind first draft. When I sat down to work on the second draft, I looked over what I had and made notes about what was needed, what felt like it was missing, where the characters came off flat, etc. and coordinated that information with what I had made notes about. All I had to do was expand on ideas that had already occurred to me, figure out where it made sense within the story and how it would affect the larger plot, and shape the story accordingly with the new material. Almost everything “missing” was accounted for in my notes, and although it was hard to come up with the stuff that wasn’t accounted for, it was muuuuch easier than cutting out the “extra” notes that I’d made for things that really wouldn’t have worked.
The third draft, which I just finished last week (weeee!), I had some beta readers’ feedback to work from. The majority of the rewrites on that round were for clarity, consistency, maintaining the readers’ suspension of disbelief, pacing, and improving scenes that weren’t working or weren’t working well enough. There were still a couple areas of major expansion, but for the most part, it was troubleshooting. I imagine the next draft will be no expansion and all troubleshooting (though that may be wishful thinking – haha!) but I’ll have to hear what my theta readers (is that a term?) have to say about that! *grin*
I’ll bet you never drafted a novel on a typewriter. I did once–just for the record word processing existed but I didn’t have access to it–and I REALLY wanted my first draft to be as close to the final as possible. When you’ve got to re-type THE WHOLE BLOODY THING it is very daunting. Truth be told, that novel never received a full re-writing; I started a second draft two or three times but never finiished. However, as I say this, it occurs to be I should confess that the first draft of my current novel is hand-written. I have found a few people i have told this to are incredulous. But a hand-written first draft doesn’t have the same problems as a type-writer typed first draft. First of all, it’s SO rough that there’s just no way you can consider weaseling out of making huge changes. I actually enjoy typing something that is handwritten (except for where I can’t read my handwriting) because it’s in that typing that the real writing begins to happen.
And another good thing about the hand-written stage of things (for me) is that it’s not so hard on the neck and back as typing at my laptop!!! At present, my 2nd draft is about 5/6 typed but I’m at the end of my handwritten material–striking out into new territory (flashlight in the woods?) so I will, as soon as I do a piece of research, generate new hand-written material. The typed draft is a behemoth, and I can only be grateful I have a computer to make the changes on when it comes to draft number three!
PS Congrats on finishing your third draft! And good luck with the final!
Wow – that’s a lot of typing! I don’t blame you for not wanting to “rough it” with your first draft if you have to do all that! 🙂 Everybody’s got a different process, but that’s the great thing about talking to other writers…what works for one novel doesn’t always work for the next, so the more ideas you have on working styles the better your reserves are for coping with problems that crop up in your work!
As a “theta reader” I must say I think you are damn near done! The approach you used really paid off.
Thanks, lady! =D
Curious – have you started working on a query letter or synopsis (I assume your going to get a literary agent?). If so, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on that process.
I haven’t started that process yet – that begins now (now that I’m back from my vacation!) Once I settle in, I plan on doing some market research and looking into the pros and cons of working through an agent, etc. I will definitely post about that process, too, once I get into it. We need to get in touch and get together to talk story soon. I’ll get a look at my upcoming schedule tomorrow evening, so we can compare calendars when I’ve got that info. 🙂