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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.