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*