Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anatomy of a Second Draft

I’m in the middle of a massive round of edits on SHUTDOWN, Bk 3 of the Glitch trilogy. This is always the biggest round of edits for me – the second draft. My first drafts usually clock in a little over 60 thousand words and are very rough. So the second draft means a lot of re-envisioning and lots of rewriting and lots of fitting together the puzzle pieces of both the plot and the emotional arc of the story . I’ve been working on this revision for a month now, it’s up to 90k words, and think I’ve got about two weeks to go.
So want to know my process on the all important second draft? Here we go!

The Edit Letter
I start out reading and rereading the edit letter from my editor. I print it out, then underline, highlight, write possible fixes in the margin, and generally scribble and mangle the seven pages until they are very well worn. Then for a couple of days I do a lot of sitting and staring off into space. I’ll bust out my pen and notebook and scratch out what I think are the biggest problems, then slowly problem-solve possible solutions. Then I sketch out the emotional map, and how each chapter is slowly building toward the climax at the end.

Because second drafts are so daunting and entail so much work for me, I always want to tackle the biggest and scariest problems first so I can get them out of the way. I break up the book into chunks (this latest book broke neatly into three organic pieces), and then I finally get to the actual writing.

Chunk #1. The Middle
For this draft, I worked on the middle first because it was where a lot of the heavy emotional story was, and I think that’s the heart of any novel. I’d been so focused on fitting together the larger story elements, that the emotional and romantic story had not come off AT ALL in my first draft. So I cut and rewrote my way all through the middle section. All the while, I kept checking each chapter against the map of the emotional arc, tweaking and making sure it had the perfect growing momentum. As daunting as this section was to rewrite, it was also the one I had the most fun with. The emotional and romantic center of any book is always my favorite, both as a reader and a writer. I’d put on moody emotional violin music and absolutely lose myself in the scenes and conversations. I love, that even in such a stressful time as doing intense revisions on a deadline, those magical writing moments can still happen.

Chunk #2. The Ending
Next I tackled the ending, which I was VERY afraid of. Because here’s the thing about this trilogy—I won’t say I bit off more than I could chew, but it has been very difficult dealing with the huge scope I set out for myself when I outlined the series. I thought, oh, by the end of the trilogy I’ll have the fate of the world standing in my MC’s hands. Uh. Yeah. That makes for a lot of moving parts, and throughout the trilogy I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses. Writing action scenes can be a weakness for me. I have to work twice as hard on those scenes. And the last third of book 3 is action, action, action. But when I actually got to it, it went much quicker than I thought it would. After brainstorming all the fixes to the problems, it wasn’t that daunting at all.

Chunk #3. The Beginning
Then I jumped back to the beginning, and worked till I met up with the middle section. This meant lots more action scenes I had to fix, and lots of work making sure I was both setting up this book as it's own entity, and tying it to the two previous books.

Cohesion Read-through
At this point, I breathe a giant sigh of relief. I’ve done most of the heavy lifting and fixed all the scariest things. Next comes the read-throughs of hundred page chunks, working chronologically this time and smoothing out transitions, language issues, and making sure it’s a cohesive read. I also send out portions to my beta partners at this point to get outside eyes on it.

The Things To-Fix List
But also I end up finding tons of problems as I read that are added to my Things To Fix list, a separate document I always keep open in addition to my manuscript document. The Things to Fix document is vital. These will be weird things ranging from: oh, check the spelling of that name, to, make sure this emotional arc is clear from chapters 10-13, or, in that conversation with all the officials, have them bring up this particular point that is a plant for something that happens at the end.

After I finish the cohesion readthrough, then I start tackling the list. At this point I also sit down again with the edit letter and see if there are problems my editor brought up that I still haven’t sufficiently fixed. That’s where I’m at right now. I try to be brutal with myself and ask myself if I’ve really fixed the problem. My temptation, after straining at this for a month already, is to just burn through the list and slap on some quick fixes that I know will need to be fixed in the next draft.

I’ve done that in the past, but this time around I’m trying to shoulder most of the work in these early drafts. When you’re on a super quick production schedule like I am (books releasing every 5-6 months), I’ve realized there might not always be as much time later as I want to fix things. Now is when I should be taking the time to dig into the guts of this thing, set its broken bones, and make it as solid as I can before turning in the next draft.

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