Draft two and what it taught me

I printed out and read through my first draft.  It was painful.  I made notes all over it and as I went, made additional notes on scrap paper.  Afterward, I physically mapped out my next revision.  At that point, it was just a bunch of pieces of paper floating around like a free-form puzzle on the table.  I looked for the pattern, made sense of it, and put the papers in ordered groups.

My scrap paper novel map

My scrap paper novel map

I revisited all of my previous work: the character sketches, plot sketches, and timeline.  The title changed again, finally to Initiate of Stone.  This emerged from the text itself, organically, the way I like it.

There were a number of metaphors and events that related to the earth element: taking shelter in caves and underground, the hidden people, who have a special skill with shaping the stone, whose father was the elemental spirit of the continent, now entombed in the mountains awaiting rebirth and acting as a kind of gatekeeper to the otherworld at the Well of Souls, the seal that must be broken to free the dark god is buried beneath the desert sands.

I decided to reinforce the theme and add to the images.  I made even more notes for all the changes I wanted to make and dove back into writing.

I wrote more, started playing with the prologue, nearly 50 pages on its own.  Each chapter now had a framing piece about the world, its history, and other things that I thought I couldn’t bring out in the story but wanted to share.  Characters developed further, names changed, existing plot lines developed, and new plot lines evolved.

I started sharing this revision out to select readers.  In retrospect, it was too early, but I got some excellent feedback from Scott Overton, then president of the SWG.

Part-way through, I abandoned the preface pieces, and decided that the prologue, though important for me to have written, was largely cut-worthy.  I redacted whole sections and added new ones.  I rearranged their order to make more sense with the timeline.

This time, the draft was close to 1200 pages.  I’d done a lot of cutting, so this was a surprise.

What I learned:

  • Step away from the novel between drafts.  You need figurative “space” to approach it fresh.
  • It’s okay to murder your darlings, especially if you keep previous drafts stored on your computer and backed up onto CD.  That way, you haven’t done away with them altogether.
  • Physical mapping is liberating.  Being able to see the structure of your novel, and to play with it, is extremely helpful.  It’s like putting a puzzle together.  Some pieces may seem similar, but they only fit together in one way.  Looking at the story in its concrete representation can help you to find the best fit.
  • Sometimes, you write things that don’t make sense, and you don’t see it until revision.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that to have to throw them out.  If there was a reason that you wrote it, try to figure out what the core intention was.  Don’t put too much intellectual pressure on it or you risk forcing it the wrong way, but if you realize why it was important to write it in the first place, that will give you the key to revising the section in a way that improves your story.

What has your revision process taught you?