Revising DragonWIP, Part 2: I Wrote A Lot Of Crap

I’m writing a series of posts on what I’ve learned through working on my DragonWIP. It’s not a revision guide, but more of a case study for those who find it helpful to know how other people work. Part 1, Draft 1 is here!

Draft The Second

So, I finished writing the initial draft in five weeks. It was mid-PitchWars (I didn’t enter but I was following along) and I had a lot of freelancing projects, so I took a two month break. It’s hard to see your work clearly if you’ve recently poured your soul into it.

After two months, I loaded the first draft onto my Kindle to read straight through. I planned to write a synopsis as I went, since I didn’t have one, and list all the character details for my six major characters.  I wanted both of these things in hand because I knew the plot was off, as I had pantsed the whole project, and I historically have been bad at writing deep characters, so I knew I’d have to start working on this element right away. So I opened a notebook, grabbed a pen and the Kindle, and read.

The book was incredibly awful.

I mean, I knew the ending made no sense and I would have to tweak pacing, but this was an entirely new level of bad. I’d written this half-baked dystopia that eventually, in a plot twist, got murdered by James Bond and a volcanic ash cloud.

It was not the story I set out to write.

So I finished reading (it hurt a lot). I made the synopsis. And once I read through the synopsis, getting that birds-eye view of what I had actually made, I started again from ground zero.

I made a new setting. I limited the scope of the conflict. I created an entirely different supporting cast. I wrote a different romance. I kept five of six main characters and the basic premise that dragons are real and they live in Iceland, but otherwise, I sat down for NaNoWriMo and wrote a new book.

When I restructured the story, I used a plot structure called Save the Cat, which is for screenplays and very useful for adventure stories. I didn’t stick to it religiously, but I knew my ending this time, as well as the major turning points. Basically, I outlined.

But even though I started a new Word document and kept just one scene, it still didn’t feel like drafting, because now I knew who my characters were, and wherever the outline faltered, I had a sense of what they were likely to do. So am I a reformed pantser? Eh, probably not. I found the plot structure really useful, but only because I’d begun to internalize the story’s core.

In summary: I ended Draft 1 with one story, and I ended Draft 2 with a completely different story based on the same premise and same six core characters.

150,000 words down. ???,??? words to go.

Takeaways

  1. Starting a revision with a synopsis is a good move. That initial readthrough/synopsis write was the most useful thing I’ve ever done. I think the worst thing about revision is that initial paralysis. How are you supposed to tackle this vast, wordy, inky disaster? Answer: you don’t. You pick out the bones, arrange them into a summary of the story, and work from that. It forces you to focus on the big things that really matter: plot, character, worldbuilding. You can’t tinker with scenes or sentences because you aren’t looking at them. And that’s good. If you tinkered with sentences from a first draft, you’d likely be wasting your time. That’s why using a Kindle or printout for that first read is a really good idea–you literally cannot fix it, so there’s nothing to do but read.
  2. If you can’t stand outlines, try using them after you write. I often discover the real story as I’m going, so outlines aren’t always helpful. I just throw them out halfway through and feel guilty for all the wasted work. But reverse-mapping the draft onto an outline (Save the Cat) was so helpful for organizing my mess into a story. It didn’t fix my pacing–in fact, I think using Save the Cat made me pace too quickly, since I left out all the quiet beats. But it did help me identify and lock down those crucial turning points on which the rest of the story can be built.
  3. There’s such a thing as a zero draft. In retrospect, my first draft is what many writers refer to as a zero draft, or exploratory draft. It’s an extended word vomit, a riff on a theme. Or, if you’re a compulsive underwriter, it may be a bulky outline with [XXX] or [INSERT FIGHT SCENE HERE] littered throughout. There’s a story somewhere, but you’re just some person standing in a lumberyard, nailing boards to other boards to see how they look. You probably won’t come out with a coherent Thing. You know what? That’s OKAY. If it gets you excited about the project, it gets you momentum, and that’s all you need. It’s a purely creative process, and that’s kinda great.

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