Draft, Redraft…. rinse and repeat

Draft, Redraft…. rinse and repeat

Liam, Head Phil asked me this: “What’s your method for redrafting?  Do you just look at the first draft as an in-depth outline, or do you just take the characters and basic premise and start from scratch?  Or do you just take the premise and start from scratch?  Or just the title?”

This is actually a brilliant question, because I am the queen of redrafting. By which I do not mean I am wonderful at it, just that I do it a lot.

The last point is out – I frequently change titles while working on books. Watching was initially entitled ‘Unsung Hero’, which is not only a crap title, but also completely irrelevant to the book. (Mind you, I started the book in January, wrote four chapters, left it for a few months, and then came back to it with no recollection of where I’d been intending to go with the plot. So who knows. Maybe it was relevant to my original intentions. I think possibly, my original intentions may have included a happy ending, which is… no. Just no.)

My redrafting process actually varies hugely from book to book, as does my drafting process, so I’ll give a few examples and explain what I’ve done with them.

My first novel was written for NaNoWriMo 2009 and was called A Sky Full Of Stars. Because I knew that only two people would ever read it, I added a load of joke plot that I thought they might find amusing, wrote them into the book, and generally stopped it from becoming something vaguely publishable.

However, quite recently I looked at it and thought, “I could use some of this.” The writing is terrible. The characters are two dimensional. There’s a bunch of stuff that doesn’t even belong. But the main concept, the premise of the story, worked. It was original and it was interesting. I started a second draft keeping three elements of the original story: the fight between two races of aliens, and the inhuman nature of the main protagonist, and the blossoming relationship between her and an army Captain of one of the two races.

And then I started a completely new novel. I only have a few chapters of it complete, but from those it’s clear leaving aside the changes to the development of the plot and the nature of the fey in the story, I’ve also changed a lot about the characters’ personalities.

With other things, it’s different. Sometimes it’s simpler, sometimes more complicated.

Destroying, the second book in the Death and Fairies trilogy, didn’t need as much work, because I’m more experienced now and because I wrote it with a view to being serious. The second draft was very similar to the first, but I typed the whole thing out again, improving sentences and paragraphs and dialogue, and changed a few scenes to accomodate changes made to book one. I also modified the ‘voice’ of one of the characters to reflect his personality a little more. The third draft had a few more changes, mainly to structure and the opening of the book, and this was due to feedback from my critique partner.

With a NaNoWriMo novel, 75% of the time it’s literally just brain splat. It’s ideas on paper. An in-depth outline is a good way of describing it. Last year’s NaNo novel, however, is something I’m pretty pleased with. Some of the pacing doesn’t work, so I’ll be reworking those scenes entirely. The writing itself is often weak, because it was NaNo, so I’ll also be retyping the whole thing and improving the quality of writing.

I think the more novels I write, the fewer drafts I need to do. Watching was the fourth first draft I ever completed, although the third I started. The Quiet Ones was the ninth complete first draft. And that’s probably a good indicator as to why Watching changed completely from the first draft to the eighth (the two main characters have remained pretty much the same, and the number of people dead by the end of it has only changed by two, but other than that it’s different), while the Quiet Ones is likely to stay quite similar when I rewrite it.

I often work by having the previous draft open alongsie the current one, using side-by-side view, so that if I’m just rewriting the same scene I can see them. If it’s a small screen, e.g. on my laptop, I’ll copy and paste the scene I want to further down my current page and delete each paragraph as I go along, and that enables me to keep track of where I am. (I never realised how hard that process was to describe before I tried to write it out.)

When I realised I would have to restructure Watching earlier this year, I sat down with a sheet of paper and wrote down all of the scenes I was keeping, and where they ought to go. I then worked out which of the ‘negotiable’ scenes were staying, and filled in the gaps with plot, some of which I took from previous drafts and some of which was completely new.

One thing that certainly happens to me is that my first drafts are written almost entirely without an outline, but the second draft is meticulously planned, and that’s often because the main problems are with structure or pacing. Also, as Liam said, I suppose my first drafts are something of an outline in themselves, and I can use them to pad out my plotting.

In December this year, I intend to start working on the second draft of The Quiet Ones, and I’ll probably do a few posts on how I’m doing that at the time. In the meantime, I’m not sure how helpful this was, but if you’d like me to clarify anything just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!

18 thoughts on “Draft, Redraft…. rinse and repeat

  1. Wow . . . that’s some process! I usually do the paragraph thing for editing, but I’ve never quite got around to a full re-draft / rewrite / edit yet, so I don’t have a process per se.

    Mind if I borrow a few tips from here, Your Majesty? ;)

  2. You don’t have to stick to side by side (which I so want to take my lovely work monitor home to do for, it’s 18″ wide!). I think you can do it horizontally as well, though that’s annoying on a lap top too. (I soo need to trade my netbook for a lap top).

    Anyway. it is hard to descride an editing process. I haven’t tried to do that with mine yet either. Not that It would be easy, since I don’t seem to have a set way to go about it yet.

    I should try the re-write thing for Sarah’s Phoenix.

    Actually I might try it with Holy Horses after I’m through reading your critique.

    I hate to have Pheonixs languishing, but I want to hone up on my skills in as many ways as possible to give it the best attention I can. :}

    1. Side-by-side usually works best as the largest screen I work on is one of the widescreen ones in the music department. My laptop just isn’t big enough to put two documents at a readable zoom level without having to continuously scroll, but the copy-paste method works well enough for me.
      I know the feeling about trying to hone skills. Between each redraft of a particular book I write another draft of something else, whether a first draft of something completely new or a redraft of another novel, in order that when I go back to it I have a whole novel’s experience to draw upon.

  3. Wow… so the process is subjective; different according to the novel. It helps, but it doesn’t… Not your fault at all. I’ll see how things go when I get to redraft something. Thanks!

    1. Yeah, it’s very subjective. Depends according to the writer, according to the novel, according to how tired you are… etc. It’s very difficult to define a process that is always in flux!
      The most important thing is to know what needs fixing. Is it the characters? Is it the plot? Is it the structure? Is it simply the sentences and the words? And that’s why critique partners are awesome :D

  4. Nice! But I hate redrafting. :P

    Poem suggestion, poem suggestion… “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost is amazing. I also really like “If” by Rudyard Kipling. And newer, funnier stuff by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. And if you’re really stuck for ideas, there’s always the Oompa-Loompa rhymes. :P

    I told Charley that *I* don’t think she sounds very posh-British or even all that British at all in her videos and that you sound much more like what we silly American teens imagine all Brits sound like. And she said to tell you. :)

      1. Not to worry: we’ll all write like that in November.
        And Miriam, I am impressed. I’ve only ever rewritten one of my stories, and I never even finished that properly.I’ll have to work on that.

    1. That’s probably because I’m a Londoner, and have been all my life, so I sound like I’m from South East London. Because I am. Charley, on the other hand, has lived all over the place and picked up various accents :-)
      I used to hate redrafting, now I really like it.
      Thanks. Depending on how my current one goes (The Hollow Men), I’ll add them to my list.

        1. TS Eliot :D It’s the one that finishes with “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” It’s very beautiful.
          She’s lived in Canada, Australia, Germany… and then there’s me. I moved a grand total of about four miles just before my first birthday, don’t remember the old house at all, and have lived where I live ever since.

        1. … Okay then. That was random. Yes, it is. As is the Thor soundtrack, the Captain America soundtrack, the Iron Man soundtracks… oh, and while we’re there, the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack is great. So is Game of Thrones and Merlin.
          I like soundtracks.

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