On Wednesday I started Draft #4 of The Voyage: Book Two of The Osteria Chronicles and I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have reached this stage.
Draft #4 is so many things, at least in my writing process. Some folks say you shouldn’t bother with doing more than three drafts of anything, but since my goal is to publish only books I feel are at (and maybe above) the standard of traditionally published, I will revise, revise and revise some more until my work is as good as I can make it.
Draft #4 is a huge relief.
I’ve had plenty of problems with The Voyage, both mentally (as in trying to stay motivated after my pirate attack) and story-wise. Drafts 1 & 2 were all over the place with timeline issues, plot holes, undefined story goals and a slew of bland characters. Draft #3 took a lot of time, heaps of revision, oodles of new chapters and a bushel of work to hammer out. But the effort was worth it. After the read through of Draft #3, I knew the majority of the hard work was over – the hard writing work anyway, there’s still the grueling work of promotion (ugh).
Draft #4 means I’m on the downhill side of the novel mountain.
The Voyage does still have work to be done. There are still some minor inconsistencies, there are still big notes in the margin that exclaim a paragraph is “lame,” “awkward,” or “clunky,” there is still one more chapter to add, there are still portions that need beefed up, but most of these are issues are quick fixes that won’t leave my brain taxed at the end of a writing session. If Draft #3 was the slow, chugging “I think I can” train heading up the hill, Draft #4 has me cresting the summit and beginning the slide into the final draft.
Draft #4 finally gets to be seen by other eyes.
Yes, my poor husband and mother are now receiving “Read This” emails after I finish revising each chapter. Advice givers say not to have friends or relatives read your work because they won’t be honest, but trust me, no one minces words in my family. If something is awkward or doesn’t make sense or is just flat out boring, they will tell me and those notes help me chisel out Draft #5. My little chapter minions are also amazingly good at catching punctuation and spelling errors.
So what do I work on in Draft #4?
As I said, at this point the most grievous and time-consuming issues of plot, setting and character have been done. By Draft #4 I’m focusing more on honing word craft, improving sentence flow, and making sure I’m creating a picture in peoples’ heads as they read. Some of this work includes…
- Selecting the most active verbs as possible without sounding like a Thesaurus. For example, I keep a keen eye out for any use of “walk” and make every effort to swap it out for something more visual like “swagger.” Still, you can go too far with this and overwhelm readers with too many fancy words when something simpler will get the story moving faster. If a “to be” verb is what works for a sentence, it stays, but if I can find a more enticing verb, I’ll use it.
- Watching out for repetitive words. Unless it’s for emphasis, you should avoid using the same noun, verb or descriptive word in a sentence (and sometimes in a paragraph) more than once. In Draft #4, any repetition gets marked and changed.
- Making certain pronouns clearly refer to the noun they replace. For example, Jason asked Hermes if he could go to Mount Olympus. The he is unclear. Do I mean Jason, or do I mean Hermes? This matters because, while your readers may figure it out, it slows them down when you want them to keep pace with your story.
- Imagining every motion, every facial expression, every setting as I read. If what I read doesn’t conjure up exactly what I want to pop into readers’ minds, I revise until I get the nuances just right. This can be a bit embarrassing as I often need to act out the scene to know just how it will play out…which is why I prefer to work when no one else is at home.
- Trying to end each chapter with something that will make readers want to keep reading. This include a cliffhanger, a snappy comment, or an unanswered question.
My Approach to Draft #4
Unlike Drafts 2 & 3 where I work out of sequence to keep things fresh (as opposed to the boredom-inducing practice of working a novel from start to finish over and over and over again), Draft #4 is the first time since the initial draft when I work from Chapter One to The End. Part of this is to get a handle on how the story plays out, but it also means I can send off my chapters to my test readers as I work rather than bogging them down with a full novel all at once.
As long as I stay motivated, Draft #4 shouldn’t take too long. Because I thought I was going to have my writing time snatched away by jury duty, I gave myself until 15 December to finish it. That works out to about six single-spaced, narrow margin pages each day.
So far I’m averaging about eight pages a day, and the good news is my jury duty got cancelled (yay!). I know I have some tough work to do around Chapters 20 to 23, but other than that, this draft should be smooth sailing and I could be done by the first week of December – I’m still holding onto that 15 December goal date though, just in case.
Well, Draft #5 of course. Draft #5 is mainly just copy editing and, once done, will be what becomes the Advance Reader Copy for reviewers. My original goal was to have Draft #5 done by the end of the year. For a while I didn’t think I would make it – to tell the truth, I was beginning to doubt I’d even finish this book. It may be tight, but if all goes well, I should meet my goal. High five myself!
Once Draft #5 is done, I abandon the book for a while, two months at the very least. This gives me time to get the story out of my head and allows me to read the book with fresh eyes to find those spelling and punctuation errors the gremlins somehow put in while I wasn’t looking. After one more read through and one more draft, yes ladies and gentlemen, we will have an official final draft for your reading enjoyment sometime in June 2015.
It’s a long road, but to produce a quality book, it’s worth every step. I may not be cranking books out like some self-publishers, but I do hope the books I create are professional and a pleasure to read.
* * *
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.