First Draft... Tell me a story
Writing first drafts is incredibly fun. I get to tell myself a story, and no one else has to see it. I don’t have to fret about syntax or word choice, or even worry about story mechanics. If plot holes appear, or a character does something weird with no believable motivation, it’s perfectly okay. If I come to a rough spot, I can write something cliche and dumb. All those things can be fixed later.
Every time I finish a drafting or editing pass, I like to leave the story to “steep” for a few days before going back to work on it again. I feel like that time away from it allows me to look at it with fresher eyes when I dive in again.
Each first draft I create is different. Some are powerful and ready to go straight to editing after one or two read-throughs and a few minor adjustments. Others are weak, and I know it. They require lots of rewriting and structural fixes before they are anywhere close to good. My current work in progress, Guardians of Caledon, has a solid beginning for a first draft, weakens in the middle, and then rebounds at the end, though it still needs work throughout. It has a few character motivation and development issues. It contains some minor plot holes that I was aware of as I wrote, but I didn’t want to take the time to figure out how to fix them right then and lose the story’s momentum, so I merely noted the problems and kept writing.
All these things must be fixed, but not in the first draft. The first draft is just getting the story out. Fixing problems is for the second draft and the third. That’s when I go in and start to strengthen the plot, fix the holes, and fill in the gaps where motivation is required or unclear. I fact-check for historical accuracy. I improve dialogue and imagery, add color and depth to settings and characters, and generally start to make the story GREAT.
Fixing those issues might require several passes. I may change large chunks of the story in six or seven drafts, or I might be satisfied with the work by the time I complete the third draft. I’m rarely done in fewer than three.
That’s when editing starts. You might ask what the difference is between drafting and editing, and it’s a fine line. What I call second and third drafts and so on is also called substantive editing, which looks at the story as a whole for structure, organization, and logical consistency. I consider the story to be at the first editing stage when I am willing to let my Beta readers have it because I no longer find elements of it embarrassingly bad. There might still be small problems with plot or characterization, for which I will ask for input and ideas, but by the time I finish drafting and start editing, most of the story design flaws are fixed.
Editing looks at the story with a magnifying glass. Now I look for the best way to say things. I analyze whether I am using active or passive voice and use active whenever possible. I try to phrase things as clearly and directly as I can without losing the details and the shading. I read aloud to make sure that the dialogue flows when it’s spoken and that the narration isn’t awkward. Reading aloud also helps to catch repeated or overused words, and forces me to slow down and really SEE what I’m looking at.
Further editing passes look for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors that might have been overlooked before now, while still fixing any previously targeted issues that may have slipped my notice. In all, I will usually go over a manuscript thoroughly at least twenty times before I declare it ready for publication, and then my husband and I go over it again as we format it for uploading to Amazon.
This doesn’t mean I will never make a mistake, or let something pass that should have been corrected, but it does mean I work very hard to make the books as perfect as I can for my readers. Writing, editing, and publishing a book is not a process that should be rushed. Quality takes time. I have learned to love every part of preparing the Dragon's Fire Series for publication, and I am very proud of each title.
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