Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Queen of Multiple Drafts

Um, that would be me. Unfortunately. And I’m not talking about three or four drafts. No, I’m talking more in the realm of ten or twelve or even—when working on a problem child of a manuscript—fifteen.

This kind of embarrasses me. I feel like a kid who has to keep taking a test over and over again until I manage to pass.

So, in an attempt to embrace my flaws and convert them into strengths (hey, I make my characters do it, seems only fair I should give it a try) I remind myself that writing isn’t a test, and there’s no finish line until I say so. So I’m beginning to take a perverse pride in these multiple drafts. (Perverse being the key word.) After all, they’re part of the quirky, wonderful, frustrating process that got me here…

So take heart if you’re not getting it right the first time. There are many (okay, at least one—moi) who rewrite ad nauseam.

My drafting process goes something like this:

First draft – Nailing the voice. This is critical for me because I refuse to write an entire book in the wrong voice. (Although I once did an entire mss alternating between 1st and 3rd POV because I couldn’t decide which one to use and that way would only have to rewrite half the book when I finally did make up my mind. See quirky, frustrating process reference above.) Sometimes this comes immediately and sometimes it can take up to a dozen tries, but I’m only working with the first twenty pages or so, which keeps it from being too painful.

Second draft – Dialog. In fact, this draft tends to look like a radio screenplay, nothing but dialog and an occasional physical action or quick paragraph of narrative. This is because my characters reveal themselves to me through their dialog. (Which is basically a polite way of saying I’m one of those writers who hears voices.) Entire conversations often come alive on the page, which is one of the very cool things about writing.

Third draft – Blocking. This is where I place these disembodied talkers into the physical world around them.

Fourth – Eleventh draft – Structure. This is the draft where I make sure I have an actual plot. I dissect everything that isn’t working and rebuild it using some sort of structure. I check for conflict and dramatic tension, make sure that every scene relates to the plot and moves the story forward. Check for cause and effect—that my characters’ actions are driving the plot and it’s not a string of pearls. Depending on how organic this story is, this can take one to umpteen drafts. Although, I do work in acts. By breaking my mss down into acts it’s much easier to manage. At least for me. Consequently, the first half of the manuscript may have fifteen drafts, but the last act only three or four, because I’ve gotten so much worked out by then.

Twelfth draft – Polishing. This is where I pay close attention to the language, making sure it’s as tight and evocative as I can make it. Also where I check for grammar gaffes, typos, etc.

It's pretty easy to see why I'm so very envious of those of you who can get it right in three. That is SO not me. Never will be, I’m afraid.