Editing the Rough Draft

In this post I use the terms ‘first draft’ and ‘rough draft’ interchangeably. For me the first draft or rough draft is the first chunk of writing that reaches the end of the story or idea. That is not to say that it has not been altered or edited at all. But it is rough and hewn mostly from the imagination without too much smoothing or editing.

It’s imperative for me that I have a first draft. Nevertheless this draft is probably the hardest part for me in many ways. I find it easier to sit down and edit than I do to sit down and write fresh new stuff on a blank page. So although the first draft probably takes a quarter of the time that the editing dose I find writing more difficult. I believe this difficulty of creation is why people recommend making yourself sit down and write, even if the words you write are utter tripe.

I do not personally subscribe to the thousand-words-no-matter-what club. Still, my rough drafts tend to be, very rough. They are spare and don’t have complete ideas. My mom says they are more like notes than complete stories.  I do try to get everything important down. But sometimes I miss things.  So editing my first draft is akin to checking and making sure the bones of the piece are in place. Each subsequent draft adds another layer on top of the bones, fleshing it out. This may be my way, but I still in my secret heart of hearts believe it is the wrong way and feel sort of weird about it. But it works, so I go with it.

The first draft allows me to see my ideas on paper and be able to decide if they work or not. I use it to show myself the whole of the idea. Without it I could not picture my story in detail. When I edit the first draft I start with the first scene, keeping what works and throwing away what doesn’t. I will re-write a scene as many times as I need to. This has a habit of changing everything in the story and makes the second draft remarkably different from the first one. Mostly because as I wrote the first draft my understanding of the story and characters matured, leaving me with a new picture that I have to impress into the first parts of the story. Often times a ‘second draft’ has scenes that have been re-written by me many times. An embarrassing number of times.

Editing a scene starts with a read through. Then I do a breakdown.

The idea of a breakdown and the actual word for it comes from Jennifer Cruises blog, but I warn you that I probably do not do it the way she does. Mostly because I could hardly understand they way it was described. I had to go look it up online and find that the only references to scene breakdowns were in relation to script writing in movies. And after looking up the way they do it, I had to kind of muddle through and eventually make up my own way.

My way consists of printing out the scene that needs broken down, and on a separate piece of paper, writing down the name of each character and then after their name, writing down what they want from the scene or the other characters. I do this for every person in the scene. This is actually more tricky than it might sound. Sometimes I realize that one of my characters has nothing that they want in a scene. They can either get written out of it completely or I have to come up with what they want and put it into the scene somehow. Sometimes they want more than one thing. In that case I write down everything they are after. I believe in writing lingo ‘want’ is called ‘motivation’.

Just the act of writing motivations down can be enough to send me back to the computer to re-write the scene.

Now that I have each characters motivations clearly in my mind I read through the scene again, this time making little bubbles above or beside each place on the page that the characters either get what they want, or, are thwarted from achieving their wants. This generally sends me back to the computer to re-write the scene.

When I have actually broken down the scene without having to go back to the computer to re-write it. It’s done. For now.

Before I began to edit my latest novel I did something remarkably similar to what I just explained I do on each scene but on a larger level. I figured out what each and every main character (and some of the less pivotal characters) want from the story.  I made some decisions about where the plot was going, what plot lines I wanted to develop further and which ones I was going to let fade. I then wrote it all down in my story bible. This really helped when I started on my scene breakdowns.

My first edit is all about getting the bones of the story into alignment. By bones I refer to plot points and character motivations. I want to catch all of the things that don’t fit. As I said I leave things out. Important things. When the bones aren’t there it dose no good for me to put in punctuation, because often I need to re-write that whole scene.

I try and fix big stuff like places that the story seems hurried or actions are skipped.  I fix  places that drag, or tend to get bogged down in minutiae. I try to make sure that the characters do things for reasons beyond ‘it advances the plot’ and that no one sounds like a wooden stick. I try and make sure that if someone pulls off their jacket at the beginning of a scene they don’t pull it off again at the end the same scene. I try to catch repeated dialog and ideas.

I do not dwell on descriptions, or the way things are phrased, I don’t even get too hung up on finding the right word. It’s too likely that it will need to be changed.  This really is the draft for making the bones solid. Everything else will be added later.

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One Response to Editing the Rough Draft

  1. That is the way I like to work with my drafts. The first one has rough outlines for the characters and the basic outline of the plot, but not much else apart from that. Just get the bare bones out and worry about all the technical bits during the editing.

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