It’s official folks, as of the 2nd of February 2016 I declared 2nd draft territory on the 515 Lost World Saga.
515 Saga 2nd Draft!!
The book has taken me a considerable time to get to the 1st draft status complete. I tend to write a little differently than some writers in that I like to fully explore the ideas before getting to the end of the 1st draft. I expect that subsequent drafts will be considerably easier than the initial one. I felt it was time to dip my toe into getting this part done because it is fairly straightforward. I do have some adjustments to make and there are the odd few chapters that I’m not happy about.
My first architectural decision was to reduce the chapters (in most parts) to around 3,000 to 4,000 words so that they didn’t run on too long. Thinking about it tactically, a reader likes to have a pause, especially if they are reading before bed. Giving the reader a good place to get up to rewards them for the next time.
Because I’ve never been in 2nd Draft territory I decided to hit up my favourite Google+ group to find out about what their thoughts were.
What is a Second Draft?
That’s a contentious issue. I could say that it is the second stage in my production process but with a second draft you do things slightly differently than you did in the past.
I asked this question to a number of my fellow writers on the Google+ Writer’s Discussion Group to get a general opinion of what they do on a second draft and was interested with the results.
“I always go big to small, so the first question is whether the overall story works, then whether the scenes are too brief nor to long-winded.”
“Gaping holes in the plot? Characters that spontaneously changed half way through? Scenes that you skimmed over to get to the ‘good part’?”
I can related to getting to the good part. Sometimes you get bogged down in the minutiae and it is far more fun to skip ahead to the juicy bit. A story requires the right amount of staging to get to the good parts so it is important to get this detail right.
“I tend to focus on character development and plot holes when I do a second draft. With my first novella, I took notes to ensure everything was consistent.”
Consistency is definitely an issue to be addressed. You can become so distant from your first chapter, as an example, that you can get divorced from some of the core ideas that were present back there. Sometimes in development of a novel, it is not always that easy to go back, therefore some important elements get left under the carpet. Character and place names are key examples of where you can soon get lost.
“Here’s what my revision process looks like:
-Finish first draft
-Put in a drawer and forget about for as long as I can stand. One month bare minimum if I’m pressed for time, otherwise I’ll start on a different project and return to this one when the other one is finished
-Print a hard copy and read it. I’ll have several highlighters handy to indicated things like repeated words or reused jokes, as well as a pen to make notes. At this point I’m basically acting as my own beta, making note of anything and everything that crossed my mind. This is in addition to the list of notes I’ll keep while drafting of things I know will need fixing.
-At this point, it depends on what sort of shape it’s in. The first thing I’m looking for is major structural issues: plot problems, pacing issues, failures of story logic, etc. If there are enough of those, I’ll do an outline to try to figure out how to fix them, then go back to the draft.
-Repeat this process until it basically works structurally. I’ll be tweaking things like word choice and character arcs as I go, but the main focus is the bones.
-Read the draft aloud to catchy any embarrassing little errors I might have missed so far.
-Enlist the first round of readers. (I may do this earlier if I can’t actually put my finger on what’s wrong or how to fix it.)
-Review their [the reader’s] feedback and make a plan to revise accordingly. By this time, I should hopefully be mainly working on tightening up the language, emphasizing themes, that sort of fine-tuning stuff.
-Get to a second round of readers. By the time I get to these guys, I’m thinking it’s pretty much ready to go and am looking for either confirmation or a reality check. If I get the former, it’s time to start prepping for publication/querying/whatever its fate. If It’s the reality check, it gets kicked back up to the drafting phase until it can get through cleanly.
The one novel I’ve queried went through three major drafts and two polishes. I’ve had other novels that have spent years trying to get past the structural phase. I won’t move them forward until I’m satisfied with what I’ve got.”
The most in-depth of the responses returned and quite an eye opener on Brittany’s process. The iterative quality loop idea is a good one. Because I’m on a deadline I can’t afford to put my draft away for a month. However, I had a long period where I had left this story brewing so I feel that it has had the time to stew. I’ll come back to Brittany’s points on readers in a later article.
Amy Knepper (Current owner of the Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+)
“What +Brittany Constable said. If that was tl;dr, here’s a shorter version:
Put the first draft away for at least a month.
Then read it.
Then decided if you need a full rewrite, just some cutting and pasting, or just putty to fill in the plot holes and plant ideas earlier.
Don’t focus on grammar on round 2. Just story and consistency. You can fix the actual words once you have the story rock solid.
And congratulations on nearing the finish line of the first draft! That’s a huge step!”
At my stage I just need putty and a few surgical cuts. I have one unhappy chapter which may get cut down considerably because it doesn’t sit right. The final chapter also needs to be far more exciting.
Unfortunately, grammar and I are difficult to separate, so I understand that because cuts may happen, such devotion to grammar would be fruitless and time wasting, yet I can’t help myself at times.
I always enjoy Amy’s encouragement! Welcomed in a gravy boat every time 🙂
Brittany Constable (in response to Amy)
“Yeah, that was probably a little long..
Basically I look at it like building a house. You don’t want to be futzing with paint colors for a wall that needs to be knocked down anyway.”
Stanley Morris (in response to Brittany)
“+Brittany Constable excellent brief. I manage to wait three weeks before revising. That’s why it’s good to have another piece waiting.”
I have no shortage of other pieces waiting. There is no danger of that. However, as mentioned, I’ve set a restrictive deadline and I need to get this bad boy done.
“With respect to those who said put it away for a few weeks, I couldn’t.
I went through it from beginning to end with several goals:
-Cut anything that slowed the pace.
-Check phrasing, clean up anything that might be wordy or unclear.
-Get rid of adverbs whenever possible
-Cut out anything not necessary to the story
-Hunt down typos and fix them
-Cut everything I could.
(My aim was to cut about 10% form the book.)
I did five revisions before I called it a second draft. One of those revisions was with (I think it’s called) Hemingway, a web app that finds adverbs (most, not all) and looks for overly complex sentences, as well as a couple of other things.
Then I sent off to beta readers and put it away.
To answer the question posed, I think the first revision should look for ways and words to cut. If it isn’t necessary, get rid of it. If it doesn’t support your main plot, get rid of it. If it doesn’t provide conflict, get rid of it.
The second thing I’d say for the first revision is look for confusing or wordy sentences. Shorter sentences are easier to read and comprehend. That doesn’t mean every sentence should be short – not at all – but the reader shouldn’t have to puzzle over what he read to understand it, either.
And during every revision you’re looking for misspellings, punctuation, and grammatical errors (where relevant). One of my beta readers came back with sixty pages that had errors, and that’s after five revisions, many, many spellchecks, and running the entire document through additional grammar/spellcheck apps.”
Quite a sensational response and more like the process that I’m going to follow. I’ve already taken a leaf out of this advice by removing the word “very” and I’ll be looking to reduce the amount of “thing” and “things” that are displayed but an adverb check is probably a good way to go.
“Check out Anne Lamott’s, “Bird by Bird.” She does a great job explaining first, second, and third drafts. Good luck!”
Short but sweet. I’ll have to see if I can get this book via my local library (because I’m a tightwad!).
“As others have suggested, the second draft is for fixing structural issues. I tend to read through it with an eye on the big picture rather than the little things (typos, etc.), though I catch those where they pop up. I write so sparse a first draft I rarely need to trim (though it happens), but rather, I end up adding detail. I usually end up rewriting the ending, and sometimes also the beginning. With the end clarified, I also use the second draft to add foreshadowing to the earlier portions of the story.”
Eduardo was the only person to mention foreshadowing specifically. In order to shape a novel like a ceramic vase, you need to pinch the fluted end in order to continue the curve. Eduardo also mentioned about the beginning and end. Two things that need to be locked in. My ending is weak at the moment so it is a definite hotspot for 2nd draft activity.
“First draft: Rough house edit. Flow, story, characters, plot, etc. “the finished product, but needs polish”
Second draft: penultimate edit: tone, tension, decisions: does everything sing?
Third draft: final edit: trim a third, if possible – tighten text, rid yourself of all those words, clichés and (most of the) clever parts
Fourth draft: red pen edit: print hard copy, read aloud, scribble with the red pen: is everything good? finito?
Fifth Draft: formatting, clean, Spartan, ready to rock n roll. (This is the copy you keep in a ring binder in the attic that your grandchildren discover when you’re drooling with Alzheimer’s and they’ve put you in a care home).”
What do the Polish have to do with this? Seriously though, this seems to follow the 5 stage drafting process that a number of people have mentioned. I’m not sure that I want to get rid of most of the clever parts otherwise my book might be akin to the level of intelligence that an American cereal marketer might require when promoting something with the words; “Corn Flakes” or “Puffed Rice”. That being said; a cliché strip would be sensible.
I’m going to have a red pen stage only, it will be with a pink pen, that’s the important difference.
I hope not to keep draft 5 in the ringbinder but I expect that the hard copy final draft may be committed to this fate after my book has been let loose for the world to salivate over. Thinking about this, Sam has put a lot of thought into the Alzheimer’s but none of my family have gone gaga (except my Great Uncle who was sectioned) so I think I’m safe.