I was very excited to finish the first draft of my latest manuscript, Unwilling Witness. Of course, it is my first draft! Over the years I've sort of figured out how I need to write, though this is constantly evolving. I have friends who are final draft writers. Before they move on, each sentence must be perfect. Each emotion must work. By the time they finish the book, they just send it in. I wish I could write that way. I've tried to. Believe me I have.
However, one of the most important lessons I've learned over time is that each writer has to learn what works for them. When I try to final draft write, my pacing suffers. In fact, my pacing is so slow, I fall asleep reading my own story! I've learned that my stories are best when I write iteratively. It's irritating, actually--my process, I mean...
so...here's how I write.
- First draft - the cerebral version. I'm figuring things out; fine-tuning plot and characters. I have some basic emotions, but it's mostly dialogue and blocking of my characters. And, the introspection tends to be me figuring out 'why'. More telling than showing, usually. The scenes are not really activated. In short, they're running around doing lots of stuff...I kind of know why...and there are a few emotions, but it's a shallow draft.
- Second draft - I try to activate the scene more. Really nail down the emotions. Take it down a level. Sometimes I go overboard. This version has more sophisticated emotions, more depth, more layering of theme, but sometimes it's not as compelling and dramatic as I would like it to be. (I sometimes send this draft to my critique group...they help me fix it!)
- Third draft - In this draft, I try to go another level deeper. I always send this draft to my critique group (if I haven't sent draft 2). I really focus on making my dialogue show emotions. I condense and focus and take my conflict to the next level if I can. I look at the arc of the book, my theme, the arc of the scenes and make sure it's cohesive.
It's important to indicate that in the past, I've written these three drafts for a chapter, given it to my critique group, and then moved on to the next chapter. Once the book is completed, I do an analysis of the structure of the entire book using a chart. (see below)
My purpose for this tool is to analyze the following in preparation for my revision.
- Is the theme of the book supported by the scenes and arcs (scene arc, chapter arcs, turning point arcs)?
- Do scenes have a multiple purposes? Can I combine scenes?
- Have I placed each scene where it has the most power and in the most powerful POV?
- Does the timing work?
- Does the conflict between the hero and heroine escalate and change? (i.e. do my hero and heroine have the same argument over and over and over again)
- Does the suspense escalate and are the clues in the proper location?
- Is there a good POV balance in the story?
Once I analyze the story and do this final revision (Draft 4), I send the book to my beta readers. I hope that by this time, the book is mostly at the Draft 3 stage (compelling, dramatic, etc.), but to be honest, sometimes they find scenes where I'm still at draft 1.5 or 2. Hopefully, I'm not still at the draft 1 point.
After my beta readers read my story, I do a rewrite of the complete manuscript based on their inputs. Typically there will be a couple of sections that really need to think about. Sometimes they catch something big! Other times, it's the small stuff. They point out (much to my chagrin) my favorite words or phrases of the manuscript. I create a list of words to watch out for. Standards on my list include: gaze, damn, hell (that's a whole other story, but let's just say, my heroes tend to like to cuss when they shouldn't), and breath. There are others, but you get the picture. I also have phrases that are manuscript-specific. For example, in this manuscript, my favorite words are 'shoved' and 'padded'. Everybody is shoving things or people here or there. And everyone, including Leo, the dog, are padding all over the place.
After I've done this round of edits (Draft 5), I read the book from the beginning. One scene at a time. I read for pacing, being compelling, and intense emotions. I also read for word choice and sentence structure. This is my polishing round of edits. I look at my revision list, and adjust the list. After I read that scene and make notes (I do this in hard copy. I know, I know. I wish I could do it on screen. Maybe some day I'll be able to. I do print two manuscript pages on each page and re-use my paper, but I find that revision is best done hard copy...and in a different font...at least for this last version.) I fix that scene...read it again...and read the next scene. This is where it gets iterative. I'll find a tweak or two each time I reread a scene. It drives me crazy...why didn't I see or that before. But, that's my process and I've come to accept it.
At some point in the rewrites, all I'm doing is changing one word back to another and so forth. That's when I know I'm done with a scene. There is another reason I read one scene and then the next. I can keep track of how the pacing is working. This way I keep the book compelling.
The truth is, I have no idea how many 'drafts' I go through. Once I get through the entire book this way, I finally do one last read through. That should be the end, unless my agent has a few comments.
Hmmm...now, I guess I'm at seven drafts, if you count the whole iterative process as one. I told you my process is crazy. But, it seems to work for me.
However, in writing Unwilling Witness, I did try something a bit different. I wrote the first three chapter using the above method (except the chart). But then, after completing the 7 drafts of the proposal and sending it to my agent to see if I was on the right track for this book, I did a quick draft of the rest of the book. I completed the draft in about 5 weeks. So, the question is, how fast can I get those other 6 drafts done? We'll find out. I'll keep you informed of how this new process goes.
I strongly believe that writing is a process of continuously learning and evolving. So as I learn and evolve, I hope some of my journey will inspire you.
Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to hear from you if you have some tips on revising a manuscript. I'm always looking for a way to make things works better for me. Just click the comment link below to tell me more!