Monday, September 12, 2016

Jigsaw Wizard: Dealing With Multiple Drafts During Revisions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm still recovering from my weekend at the Space Coast Comic Con, so here's a golden oldie from the archives. Enjoy!

Sometimes a story goes through several drafts before you figure out the best way to tell it. Problem is, you often end up with multiple drafts, and there's good stuff in every one. Finding a way to piece together all the best parts and still make the story feel cohesive can be a challenge.

Regular readers of the blog will sense a list coming, and they're right. Lists can be incredibly helpful at giving you an overall look at your story, especially if it's in several pieces. This could be a great place to start figuring out which pieces contribute to your core conflict and which don't. You can hit the critical details in all the scenes you plan to use and see how they flow together. Maybe even use that one-line summary that describes the plot movement so you can see how they connect to the overall story arcs.

It can also be helpful to create a new file and start pasting in all the scenes you want in the order you want them in. The story won't make a ton of sense since the scenes will likely be disjointed, but they'll be in place and give you a better sense of how they flow and work together (and let you see where you might need to write more or cut back). For those using the Three Act Structure, this is quite helpful in determining where you major set pieces fall, and if the right scenes are in the right places. You might find you have too much set up and not enough for Act Three (or vice versa), and will need to adjust.

Your Darlings

In multiple drafts, it's easy to have favorite moments you want to include, and you'll probably work hard to get them to fit. But just because it's a great scene doesn't mean it's great for the final story or plot. When I'm trying to fit a favorite bit into something I'm writing, the difficulty fitting it is a big red flag that it might not be the right scene for the book. Forcing a scene almost always ends with a big stumbling block for the reader as soon as they hit it. It doesn't flow, it doesn't quite make sense, it doesn't really advance the story.

This doesn't hold true for every tough bit to fit, and once in a while, I come up with a seriously cool way to make it work that I wouldn't have thought about otherwise. But I'll be honest and say this is rare. If you find yourself beating your head against a scene, it might be time to file it away and save it for another story.

What to Look For to See if Your Scene Fits:
  • Does it advance the core conflict in some way?
  • Does it offer new and relevant information?

That Looks Right, But...

Another common snag in piecing together drafts is what I like to call revision smudge. Those bits that get left behind that reference something no longer in the story. You changed which character was in the scene with your protag, you changed the location, the goal shifted slightly or the stakes altered. Reading these scenes feel "right," but when you look closely, you realize that part of the story is no longer there. That reference was cut, or changed, or was even moved to a new location.

Things to Look For That Could Be Revision Smudge:
  • Are there any leftover names or details that don't belong?
  • Is anything referenced that is no longer there, or has changed?
  • Does the protagonist still want the same thing?
  • Are the stakes the same?
  • Does the antagonist still want the same things? Has their plan changed?
  • Are there extra characters that aren't anywhere else now?
  • Is the information revealed new, or has it been added elsewhere?

Didn't They Say That?

Description and backstory are two more spots that can cause trouble. A scene that introduced a character in chapter one might now be in chapter five, and readers already know who they are. Do a Find on each character's name (or a key detail of backstory) and see what info you reveal first, then every other time that name/detail is mentioned. This can be time consuming, but you'll know exactly where you say what about a character, and I've caught many a repetition this way.

Revise Chronologically

Revising chronologically also helps see the story as it unfolds, since you can easily flip back and double check details. And just having read it, the actual text will be fresh in your mind. You might even make an easy-to-check list of things you changed that need to be edited overall.

Piecing together multiple drafts can be tricky, but a little pre-planning can save you a lot of time and effort.

Have you ever pieced together several drafts? Or tried to combine two story ideas into one? What pitfalls did you stumble into? 

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. This is a great post! Thanks!

  2. Great post. I'm walking on my second draft so I can relate lol

  3. Thanks, Janice. I'm just heading into another revision, so it was great timing for me to discover your blog post!

  4. Glad I could help! Welcome to the blog, Sharigreen. We talk about revisions a LOT here, LOL.

  5. I love your lists Janice. When it comes to "darlings" if I can't decide if I should cut or keep, I usually cut it. But I will save it in a file so I can use it latter if I want.

  6. During my first round of rewrites I cut a scene that I was so intently into when I was writing it, it made me sad to see it go. It was so hard, but it just didn't make sense with where the story ended up going. :/ So, I saved it, just in case I can use it later. :)

  7. This is what I'm dealing with right now, so your post couldn't be more timely! Thanks Janice--you rock!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  8. Thank you for this informative and helpful post. I have often struggled with trying to piece together bits of multiple drafts, but I hadn't thought about it this way.

  9. Angela, thanks! That "save for later" file is a blessing, isn't it? Makes it easier to get rid of things we like.

    Danielle, smart move. I had to cut a scene I loved from Darkfall. So hard! I plan to post it on the website as a deleted scene :)

    Angela, thanks! I'm glad I pulled from the archives today then.

    Susanna, most welcome. I hope it makes it easier for you on your revisions.

  10. Oh! Great post. I actually did this with the MS I'm querying right now! The thing for me is that I can't outline. At all. I get ideas for twists and stuff but if I write anything down, I lose the interest in writing and I can't get anything done. Soooo, the problem with that is that I have a "pre-draft" that is basically me figuring out what to do with the plot and story, and then I have to re-write the story again, which is really time-consuming and often tiring, but this time it makes the story much stronger. I think what I do with multiple drafts is that I remember the scenes I like, but I don't write them down. The bad ideas will eventually be forgotten, but the ones that remain in my head after two new drafts show that, by overcoming even my brain's filtering system, those scenes are the ones I feel truly important. :)

  11. Julianna, sounds like you're a natural pantser :) But you nailed it - the good stuff sticks with you and the bad stuff fades away.

  12. Combining two different drafts or story ideas sounds like a challenge! I haven't tried something like that before, but I have had points where I had to cut a scene I loved! I have a couple of them up on my webpage as deleted scenes, to offer readers after they read my book.

  13. Rinelle, you don't always need to do it, but sometimes you try one thing and it doesn't work, but then you see how you can mix and match.

    Deleted scenes are great for website extras :)

  14. It's the changes I make but don't realize I've made that drive me nuts! Good post!

    1. Ooo, those get me, too. When did I write this???

  15. "Revision smudge" is an amazing phrase, and I've so rarely seen this problem addressed! Changing one scene might mean you have to change the same thing - or things affected by that scene - throughout the whole story.

    I had a scene with too many minor characters and my editor suggested consolidating them into fewer people - so I had to go through the rest of the story and make sure none of the cut characters showed up anywhere and that the behavior of the remaining characters still made sense with their functions in their big scene.

    1. Thanks! It's so easy to leave something behind and so hard to catch unless you read it in one or two sittings. I hope you caught all the smudge from your character consolidation!