Monday, July 12, 2010

Revision Broken Down Into Multiple Drafts

Last month, we heard from several different authors about how they attack the first draft. So, today, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at subsequent drafts.

Personally, I think it’s impossible to write a really good story in just one draft. Okay, there are some people who can do it, but they aren’t the norm. And, some people can revise as they go, but I’d still argue that, technically, they’re still writing in more than one draft—it’s just difficult to know how many. :)

My writing process is done in layers, because that’s the easiest way for my brain to keep track of everything. I used to try to do everything at once, and ended up so overwhelmed that I usually wanted to throw the whole project out the window. So, now, I break everything down into manageable chunks, doing the real work in revision.

Draft 1: Raw Materials
For all my first drafts, I consider this to be the equivalent of slapping a big ol’ lump of clay on a table and preparing to mold it into the shape of my story. Nothing more. I’ve tried doing more than this in first drafts, and I’ve always ended up getting myself lost and frustrated.

Draft 2: Voice
Voice is extremely important, so this is something I try very hard to nail early on. I will work on some of this before I even write the first draft, when I’m getting to know my main character. I do this through journaling from the character’s point of view, and that usually gets me directly into her head. After I get the first draft down, I’ll go through the entire manuscript and make sure that everything sounds like it’s coming from my characters and not from me.

Draft 3: Subplots
Subplots are always in the back of my head when I’m planning and writing out that first draft, but I consider them too important to tackle along with something else. I will devote an entire draft to them to make sure they’re being introduced in the right place, as well as resolved appropriately before the story ends. I often have several subplots, many are subtle and some are more obvious, so I find that giving them my undivided attention is the best way to keep track of them. (in case any of you are wondering why Plot isn’t in this list, I go through an elaborate Plot process before I even write the first draft)

Draft 4: Character and Dialog
Character is not one of my natural strengths, so I usually wait until I’m close to the end before attacking this. If I feel that everything else is in good shape, then, somehow, that gives me the confidence I need in order to tackle character and dialog. Often, I don’t have enough of how my characters think and feel in vital situations, so I painstakingly go through each chapter to look for that...and it usually take more than one draft to get it all. :)

Draft 5: Polish
Once I feel that all the big pieces are in place—the voice is strong, my characters are solid, and my subplots make sense—then I will go through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and look at every single paragraph, sentence, and word to ensure it’s in exactly the right place. This always takes more than one draft, because it’s easy to miss a detail when you’re focused on the one above it.

The order of these drafts always varies depending on what story I’m writing. Some stories pull me in one direction. while others pull me the opposite way. Certain aspects of one story may come naturally to me, but, in the next story, I may agonize over it. But I do keep these areas broken down like this, because it helps me get my head around the concepts. It also means I can’t write a story in less than five drafts. If I did, my story would be incomplete.

Have you found your revision process? What is it?


Andrew Smith said...

Wow. Very involved, but, in the long run, your process is probably simpler to manage than mine. I am a revise-as-I-go writer, and you're correct that by the time I'm finished it's impossible to say exactly how many revisions have been made, since I literally revise every day, and on the average it takes me about 70 days to finish a novel at 95,000 words or so. So... 70 or 80 revisions?

Tabitha said...

It is very involved, but, when I'm done, I do have a clear picture of what I've done. And I have an easier time identifying areas I may have missed. So, it works for me. :)

70 days to finish a novel?? Wow! I'd say you really have a strong handle on your writing/revising process. That's amazing. :)

Robby said...

This sounds quite a bit like the way I write, or am starting to. I used to write something, revise it, and then move. I'm learning I need to put in a wee bit more effort. I love your blog, these posts. I think if I revised as I went, I would go crazy. Maybe I will try it.

Anonymous said...

The most freeing advice I was ever given for writing was this: "Every good writer has revisions." How generous of you to share the details of your process. The final story doesn't unfold all at once - we know this - but it is helpful to see your process spelled out. It is a lot of work - but if you do the work, the results will show it (like so many things in life).

Tabitha said...

Robby - if revising as you go is making you crazy, then something like a 'draft' process may work well for you. It took me years (and several projects) to figure that out, so it sounds like you're ahead of the game! :)

Coach Lori ;) - exactly! Like pretty much everything in life. :) I don't know about everyone else, but I rarely get things just right the first time. I have to work hard, look at things in different perspectives, and learn from my mistakes. But, in the end, it's SO worth it.

Martina Boone said...

This is a fantastic breakdown! Thank you for putting this up. (I happen to be one of those who writes in multiple drafts AND revises as I go, so who knows how many drafts I do.) I love the logical approach to this.

Hope you don't mind if we include this in our Friday round-up of best articles for writers.



Sherrie Petersen said...

What a great breakdown! I don't think I could put into words my revision process because I'm still working on it...

Anne M Leone said...

Interesting post! Thanks for sharing your process. My first draft is similar to yours, a lump of clay, but my next draft is mostly spent sorting out plot (which doesn't come naturally to me at all). Once I have the plot down, I'll go back and tweak with characters, subplots and voice, probably jumping from chapter to chapter, and type of revision to type of revision rather randomly. That stuff comes a lot more easily to me, but I don't want to think about it too much until I know the plot is right. Then, like you, of course I'll do the final polish. I'm close to finishing my first (plot) revision at the moment. Can't wait till it's done!

RosieC said...

Great post. Thank you! I'm still honing my craft, and your breakdown is very helpful.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I'm like Martina. I revise as I go but must revise multiple times, often focusing on different weaknesses.

Mary Witzl said...

I need to be this methodical!

I revise as I go too. I know I shouldn't, but I also polish as I go along. I tell myself to leave the details for later, but I always worry I'll forget and lose track of where they are. I almost always end up with subplots that need trimming out or cutting down.

J.Tuttle said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading everyone's response, too. Very interesting how there are so many ways we writers write!