Thursday, January 22, 2015

Draft 2: Method of Attack

Hey, it's Karlie!

So, you've gotten your first draft down, in all its ragged glory. The good, the excellent, the soul-wrenchingly awful - it's all there, from the beginning to the end.

Now what?

The first thing I'd recommend is taking a breather - a month at least, or if you don't have that luxury (a deadline staring you in the face, for one) two weeks. And when I say take a breather, I mean don't touch it, don't think about it, don't even look at it! I firmly believe that distance is necessary to see the whole picture.

After that, give it a read-through. You'll have moments of amazing, and you'll also have moments of what-the-holy-crap-was-I-smoking-when-I-wrote-this. You should be able to see the bigger picture as you do this - character arc, plot, sub-plot, everything. What works and what needs fixing.

A lot of people do things backward when approaching the second draft, though. They start with the dialogue and the prose itself, rather than fixing the big things. The result of this? You spend hours getting a single paragraph absolutely perfect, Nobel prize worthy, only to find the scene isn't relevant to the plot after all and you must cut it.

Trust me, it hurts a lot worse when that happens than if you'd simply cut it from the beginning. I know.

So first things first - plot and character arc. Even if you're not usually an outliner, it helps a lot to start a basic plot sketch, even if you wait until draft 2. It's super helpful, and I'm a born pantser. It'll help with all those loose threads that are still dangling around in draft 1.

After you're totally satisfied with character and plot, then is the time to fix the prose itself.

That's my plan of attack for draft 2 - what's yours?

Caitlin: I basically do the same thing, except that I'm usually too impatient to wait long before diving in, though I do think having taking a breather is good advice! I'll often read this first draft on my kindle to keep myself from editing it. As you say, Karlie, it's all about the big sweeping notes at this point. Another thing I'd recommend, if you can pull it off, is trying to read it all in one day. That helps you really analyze the pacing, decipher character inconsistencies, and see any glaring plot holes.

Lisa: Caitlin, all in one day? That's actually a great idea. I'll have to try that one. Karlie, I definitely wait a month, usually two. However, I do one congratulatory read-through right when I finish. Hey, I have to! But, I edit as I write (raises shameful editor's hand), so I'm not moved to fix a thousand glaring errors, though there are still plenty. On a side note: You think you feel stupid when you find little mistakes like the wrong form of you're or their - imagine being an editor by profession and finding those mistakes in your own writing. Mind. Blown.
I have to add one more thing on Karlie's subject. I've always heard that you should read your novel backward in order to find more of the silly typos and grammar errors (this is usually advised for the sixth or seventh edit. Yes, there are that many.). I finally did, just wow. Do it. I found stuff that everybody missed.

Dan: I usually let it sit for a week or two -- if I have the luxury of waiting that long -- and then reread the whole thing on my Kindle (like Caitlin). Usually I have some idea of the plot holes and inconsistencies because I noted them while writing, and didn't want to slow down. Even so, I'll keep a notebook while I'm reading to draw up my plan of attack.

I agree with Karlie -- the first revision is all big-picture stuff. Character arc, narrative structure, filling in major plot holes, etc. Then it's beta reads and more revision, followed by a copy edit and fine tuning. Next week, I'll lead us in a post about these second and third revisions and we can share the strategies that work for all of us.

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