Monday, October 25, 2010

Redraft, thou saucy varlet!

How much change does a draft go through before it's not an update but a REdraft? Significant change? Well, I've stripped out all the velociraptor helicopter pilots and flaming robot soldiers, but the battle moths and proselytizing garden slugs are still intact.

Kidding! Or am I?

No, a redraft is when you remove the second two-thirds of the book to save for later, and focus on the first third.

If there's a scary part, make it scarier. Turn-your-stomach-to-water scary, I hope. Sad parts get sadder. I want readers to feel pierced by grief. Hey, the characters are; it only seems fair. Beauty? Make it ache.

But it's not just turning up the volume on drama and emotion. It's clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

Lots of mud gets scooped up with the first draft. I try to clean that out. Fragments of plot ideas that ended up going nowhere: take 'em out. Unclear motivations, or ideas that grow out of sequence: fix all those.

But here's what has surprised me the most. During the first "exploratory" draft, I'm improvising. Testing out ideas, phrases, ways to describe things. I try not to feel too attached to anything I'm writing, because I can "easily" go back and change it, either in revisions or right there as I save the first draft and begin "draft 1A." And 1B, 2, 2B, etc.

I cribbed this idea from Laini Taylor and it's worked wonders. It's like writing with a safety net.

In any case, in the first draft, the stakes feel nice and low. When I can't think of the exactly the right word, I use the closest approximation: Characters are running and trying to talk? Do they gasp? Breathe? Pant? Grunt? Gulp? Shudder? Cough? Gag? Hack? Stutter?

But in the redraft: Ah, the redraft. Every. Word. Matters. It's the opposite of the wild freedom of that first draft, where I'm so frantic to get the words on the page I don't even check spellings.

No, at this point, I'm working with scalpel and forceps, needle-nose pliers and long thin tweezers, removing a word and trying another, and another, and another, until it's just ... right. It's painstaking work, but slowly, very slowly, the needless layers slough off and what's left is the story I've been trying to write since that first draft many months ago.

1 comment:

Babs said...

Absolutely every English teacher in middle and high school should read this! It would save endless hours of despair and depression about pouring your life onto paper, only to be graded on how wide your margin is and if you put that comma in the wrong place!