Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Many Drafts?

If you're a writer, I'm sure you've heard this question before, "Are you a pantser or a plotter?"

Most times people fall definitively into one of these two camps. There are some who will admit to being a hybrid of this called a "plantser." These are writers who loosely plot, but mostly write what comes to them rather than having a definitive guideline for their story. I fall into this hybrid category. I used to write by the seat of my pants and then go back and rearrange my work as needed. It ended up being a lot of work and most times my plot was full of holes.

Now that I'm on my fourth manuscript, I've learned to write smarter not harder. I'm just sorry it took me so long to figure out what works for me. When it comes to drafts, I've figured out a process that helps make my work take shape, and I thought I'd share that process today.

1) The Spill My Guts Draft

This is where I write without stopping or editing. It's like I'm in a race with my brain to get the story out as quickly as possible before the muse disappears. For me, this type of draft is very freeing, yet it comes with many problems i.e. typos, somewhat incoherent sentences, and continuity issues. This is all okay though, because I know I'm going to come back and fix it.

2) The Meticulous Surgeon Draft

In this draft, the work REALLY gets done. I dissect each sentence and make sure I'm using the strongest verbs. The dialogue has to be clean, and the pacing needs to match the tone of the story.

3) Emotional Fluency Draft

By this time I hope my writing is tight, so now I go back over the character's emotional arc. Am I slowly revealing who my character is and what he or she needs? Or am I info dumping all over the place? Can I string the reader along with just enough enticing info to pique their curiosity, or do I need to dig deeper and get them more emotionally invested in my protagonist?

4) It Better Be Good By Now Draft

This is the last pass. At this point I print out the entire manuscript (sorry, trees!) and read through each chapter out loud. If I stumble over words, or the dialogue is stilted, I rework it until it flows. I also look at the final sentences in each chapter to make sure they are as strong as possible. This is critical because those last words are going to be what entices the reader to move on to the next chapter. Some people insist these sentences should be cliffhangers, but I disagree. It's unrealistic to think you can build up that type of anticipation at the end of every chapter. Instead, I focus on making the sentence strong enough that the reader turns the page without thinking - that's the real victory - moving the story forward without tipping your hand.

What happens next? Finally, I'm ready to pass the manuscript on to my beta readers and critique partners. When their feedback comes back, I read it over and adjust the manuscript accordingly.

This is my own personal process. What works for me may not won't work for someone else and that's okay. The key is to figure out what drafting technique works for you and then stick with it.  Only through editing and refining our work can we make it something readers will cherish and want to read time and again.

What drafting process works for you?  Please share in the comments below. Maybe your process will spark a fire in another writer!


Laura Rueckert said...

I'm a hybrid also, and I do a few drafts before I let a CP look at it, but I'm still learning my ideal process. I have the same spill-my-guts draft and the meticulous surgeon draft. I've realized I need to have a plot-and-tension check next time right after spill-my-guts. And I end with the print-and-read-out-loud, too.

Patchi said...

I love the plotster term!

I stew on an idea until I can "see" the story in my head. Then I draft a quick version by hand in a notebook, because that's where I feel free to ignore spelling and grammar. I write out scenes I know and ignore what I don't. By the time I start typing, I'm invested in the story and scenes are playing out in my head at random times. At this stage I'm adding new stuff when it comes to me and transcribe the stuff I wrote out. Whenever I get stuck, I revise for wording. I'm not a linear writer, so there is a major continuity revision in my process.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

I love the Spill My Guts draft. There's really no rhyme or reason to the way I write, but that first one where things come to you and you just GO with it are so great. I also love the end, where technically things seem to be fixed, and then I go back and try to add more relevance, more *feel* into the characters. That never really happens in the same "stage", but I love it just the same. ;)

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

I'm mostly a plotter, but I have a few pantser qualities. Basically, I outline my entire book, plot point by plot point, on index cards. I think about my characters, really figure out who they are. Then I write. But while I write, I allow my characters the liberty to go where they want to go. Often times, my plot changes. When that happens, I adjust my index cards accordingly and move on.

I love the idea of an emotional fluency draft. I've never thought of it quite like that. Thanks!

C.R. Evers said...

I still haven't figured out my style. When I just try to get all my thoughts on paper (like during NaNo) I end up with a bunch of junk that I don't know how to fix. But when I take my time, then I never end up finishing the draft. One day I hope to get a style nailed down for myself that works!

Jess said...

My process is very similar to yours, though it varies with every manuscript. I'm still trying to find a method that I can use consistently.