The Terrible Twos of Drafting

As my readers may know, I’m deep in the mire that is Draft Two of The Voyage, the second book of my fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles. For me, working through draft two is like slogging through knee-deep muck – it’s scary, it’s exhausting and you feel like you might never make it out alive (I know from experience what it’s like to slog through knee-deep muck). This may not be everyone’s experience, perhaps draft one is the hard part, or something snaps in draft three that makes you want to rip out your hair, but I thought this week’s post should be about how I tackle the Terrible Twos of Drafting.

To Start, Draft One and Pre-Draft One

Now, my troubles with draft two can’t be blamed on lack of preparation. I’m one of those writers who creates character sketches and brief outlines before starting the first draft. Some writers hate this approach saying it kills creativity, but trust me, it doesn’t. My one sentence on an index card turning into a ten-page chapter is not an example of my creativity being stifled. Outlining essentially provides me a writing prompt to get each day of draft one going.

And draft one does go. Draft one to me is merely to get the plot line out (or at least most of it – things tend to pop up that have to be further developed in draft two). I write very fast, I don’t dwell too much on setting, I may have two pages where I don’t even bother with a dialogue tag, and character wrtingmotivation can be a bit slim.

Throughout draft one (handwritten) my margins are filled with notes telling me to go back and add certain things to avoid coincidences, questions to myself about what the character should be doing earlier to foreshadow a scene, and often rude comments telling me a passage is lame (I’m rather cruel to myself).

My first drafts are often done in about six weeks and are very slim, but the point for me is to get the story out of my head and provide a scaffold to build on.

Setting Up for Draft Two

Some writing books will advise letting your draft one simmer for several weeks before jumping in again. It’s not bad advice, but it just doesn’t work for me. I give myself a little celebratory break for about a week and then plunge into the read through of draft one.

During this read through I make copious notes on each chapter** including the tone of the chapter, whose point of view it’s told in (or should be told in), the basic plot elements, and about what work needs to be done to improve it. This work can include something as simple as fleshing out the setting details and fixing the POV, or as complex as building up a character’s believability or completely re-working the chapter. The read through also tells me if I need to add in chapters to fill in gaps or to provide a split in a long chapter.

**By the way, I work in terms of chapters. Many other writers work scene by scene. I like to be a bit different. If you work with scenes, just think “scene” every time you see “chapter.”

As I’m making all these notes, I give each chapter a star rating based on a five-star system. One star means the chapter doesn’t need much, if any, work; five stars means a whole heapin’ helpin’ of work needs done.

Delving Into Draft Two

twoAnd so it begins…Draft Two. It’s always hard to say how long draft two is going to take which is annoying because I love to schedule out how much I’m going to get done each day. Sometimes, getting through five pages of revision can take a couple hours, sometimes it can eat up my entire writing day. This inability to plan when it will be done is probably why I hate Draft Two so much.

When I approach draft two, I want to work on it out of order. For me, working on my book in the same order for every draft ruins the book and, when I explain, most writers will understand exactly what I mean. When you start a book (regardless of draft number), those first few chapters are filled with motivation for your project. As you continue through the book, the motivation and excitement dwindles and doubts creep in. Mixing up the chapters as you work on a second draft, throws that excited motivation into random chapters.

It can also help to mix things up because you will see more clearly that something that happens in say chapter twenty, needs to be set up or foreshadowed in chapter ten. For example, in The Voyage, my character needs to be identified by a birthmark late in the novel. By mentioning this birthmark earlier, I’ve set up that he has this mark and this is how you avoid those pesky coincidences that make readers groan.

Mixing up your chapters as you work definitely adds a fresh perspective on the novel and forces you to look at it in a new light. Plus, you will be doing around five to six drafts of your book. You will get absolutely sick of your book by the fourth time through if you are constantly working on it in the same order.

How to Mix It Up

Remember those star ratings I mentioned earlier? That’s how I mix it up. I organize the chapters by star rating. Then, starting with the one-star chapters, I randomly pick a chapter to work on (I write the chapter numbers on slips of paper and draw them out of an envelope). Once the one-stars are done, it’s on to the two-star chapters, again working randomly.

You can of course start with the five-star chapters, but I find starting with the easier chapters helps build a foundation that provides more substance for those harder chapters.

What Gets Done in Draft Two

For me, draft two is the “real” work of writing a novel. The main goal of draft two is to nail down plot and character motivation. In draft one, despite my planning, loose strings unravel and characters aren’t developed properly. Draft two ties up the majority of those loose strings. As the plot firms up, so do the characters’ behaviors and personalities.

The other major work that gets done is to elaborate on the setting (including sights, sounds and smells), character appearance, and minor character names (in draft one many minor characters are just known as X).

And, as I mentioned, entire new chapters get written, new characters may be needed to provide someone for a main character to talk to (you want to avoid too much inner monologue – boring), and backstories need to get worked in without the chapter suffering from a big information dump.

All this takes an incredible amount of time. Long gone are the glory days of draft one’s fast writing just to get the basics out; now is the time to buckle down and get serious about making everything believable and sensical. If draft one is like kindergarten, draft two is like jumping into an upper level college course.

Sense of Pride

For me, although more details will be added in draft three, the second draft comes very close to how the story will play out in the final draft. I refuse to let anyone even read a scrap of my draft ones, but after finishing the second draft I feel that itch to show it off, to say, “Hey, look at this world I created!” Still, I fight the urge because I know there’s always a loose string to braid, more details to be added, more believability to add to my characters. And all that will be tended to in draft three.

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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.
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8 thoughts on “The Terrible Twos of Drafting

  1. P. S. Hoffman says:

    I really liked the ‘star rating’ idea, but when I wanted to ask you a question: How in-depth are your outlines? Sometimes I have outlines that go on for pages and pages, and I realized I don’t know how other writers do it!

    • painterwrite says:

      I think outline length is based on whatever works for you (as long as the outline does eventually become a novel!). Mine are only about one page, with one or two sentences for each chapter. My aim is to simply give myself an idea of what basic aspect of the plot will happen in each chapter. Some writers like to work by scenes and will detail each scene’s setting, mood, and action. Other writers will have no outline at all…I wish them luck. As I said, for me, the outline serves as the jumping off point and from the outline I can weave in other aspects of the story that arise as I write that first draft, some of which never occurred to me as I created the outline. My brief outlines give me some structure to know what I need to accomplish each writing session, but plenty of flexibility and that’s what works best for me. If your long outlines work for you, then stick with them!

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