101 Drafts: What are Drafts?
Listening to: Kimbra, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, and Ceasers (Thank you DDRSuperNova)
In order to help you estimate how long it should take you to read this, I will now start including word counts on my posts. This posts word count is: 5895 words
Today’s post is going to be about a writers entire career, for the most part: drafts. An amateur writer will probably go through one or two drafts, the second draft only a slight modification of the first. The Modest Writer will go through about two or three drafts, the third being slightly better than the second one, a brief polish still litered with weak metaphors and a couple of mistakes, plot holes even, but well enough written to be sent off to someone and published (self published of course, the major publishing industry has become such a drag lately, wouldn’t you say?). But the Experienced Writer will go through somewhere around five, six, seven…one hundred drafts before they get it right. Now, before you start shouting at your walls that such a thing can’t be true, you’re being too literal, at least as far as the Experienced Writer is concerned. So, let’s begin.
What is a draft?
A draft, as defined by the interwebs, is: a preliminary version of a piece of writing.
Yes, very much so, but what is it really? Your third grade English teacher taught you best, or at least eh basics of what you need to know: there are three kinds of drafts, on teh surface of it all. There is of course the rough draft, the first draft that starts it all, where you simply throw whatever comes into your head onto the page as quickly and messily as possible with no coherence whatsoever (and if there is coherence within it, it’s not a lot). Then there is the edited draft, this is when you and a partner pair up and you swap stories, you critique and edit each others work, you get it back, erase most of what they’ve put, have a shouting match with them because you’ve called them too stupid to understand your incredible prose, and they shout at you for marking out that entire section of a characters back story, that you justify by saying it was boring, and they are of course hurt, and then you’re both at a stalemate; this is the point when you turn away from each other, begin marking our own edits, realize that your partner was actually right about a lot of those things, and you turn around, shyly say sorry, and then exchange again, and finally you’ve got something to work with, as the both of you are now proposing and spitting out ideas to add into the story, and then you’re talking about a sequel, but calm down, it’s only a third grade writing assignment, you’re not the next George R.R. Martin or Rick Riordan just yet, cool your jets, dude. Finally, there is of course, the grandiose and incredibly sought after, Final Draft. This is when you write incredibly neat, taking ten painstaking minutes to write every a, I, and the just perfectly because one mistake results in you crumpling up the entire page and tossing it into the rubbish bin to be burned and it’s ashes burned over again until there is nothing left by markings at the bottom of the bin where the flames burnt it. The Final Draft is also where you implement the things from the rough draft and the edited draft, as now it’s time to make sure that the story is perfect, it’s time to make sure that all your verbs agree and all your punctuation is right, and that you’re even using the correct punctuation and tense in the first place. And at last, just as the bell rings, you have finished your masterpiece. Your beautiful, third grade level masterpiece. Magnifico!
Well, now, sorry to tell you all, but it doesn’t work as easily as that in the rough and tough playground of a writers world. In truth, yes, these are the basic levels of a draft, but so much more goes into the drafts than these simple steps, for you didn’t even ask questions in the edited draft phase, and what of killing your darlings? Making it some thousand or two words shorter (for a short piece of fiction, for larger pieces of fiction somewhere along the size of the average Stephen King or George R.R. Martin novel, I would recommend cutting down at least ten or fifteen thousand words, I promise, the reader can do without them…yes, I’m looking at you Mr. Martin)? What about going crazy because you don’t know how to go on? What about completely rewriting the story six or seven times before you finally get it right? Oh, what agony!
In truth, as a writer, you should never go through a single draft and expect someone to pick it up and really, really like it, and I mean in the sense that they wouldn’t mind publishing it. I’m sorry, bur very, very few writers are so talented, and even they will likely be forced to rework some of their stories because there must be some effort, for what would be the fun of writing if there was no work involved? Anyhow, what I would like everyone reading this to understand is that, each draft is absolutely vital to the process of writing. While working with me on The Place Beyond the Courtyard, my latest dystopian horror story, my English teacher brought up an excellent point: throw away none of your drafts, ever. It is sin to do so, and those who sin are condemned to Hell, damned in the eternal fire; a pen and paper just out of reach as you are forced to completely think out a story, but never write it down! You should never throw out a single draft of your work, even when it is finished, because you never know when you may delete something in one draft, but decide to b ring it back in another, or what is more, you may delete it from this story, but you may decide that this section that you deleted is far better fitted for another story that you are writing, and you may want to place it there, and you find that you are able to rework the meaning of it, while also reflecting on how it weighed itself in the original story and why it didn’t work there, but it will here. Keep. Every. Draft.
Drafts are also the many, many hoops that you as a writer will have to jump through before you finally get to the final draft. In order to get from point A to B and then the C, traditionally, at A you’re going to have to make a lot of detours onto A1, A2, A3 and so on before you hit the main road again. I remember when I first started writing, even now sometimes actually, I could not start a story for the life of me. It would take me some ten or fifteen times before I finally got the first paragraph of the story done. I recommend this to a tee. I think that is is helpful to write several beginnings just as you should write several drafts because any of these first paragraph drafts could be the difference between your stories success and failure.
The Rough Draft
Now that we know what a draft actually is, let’s talk about the preliminary drafts specifically. The Rough Draft goes by many names: the first draft, the crap draft, the slush-pile draft, the monstrosity, the ‘Most-terrible-thing-I-have-ever-written-that-will-cause-me-to-stop-writing-because-I-decided-not-to-go-on-to-the-next-draft’ draft; it’s all the same by the bare bones. The rough draft is the draft where you can literally do whatever the fuck you want. You could have your main character kill him or herself and come back to life, kill the villain, feel bad about this, kill himself again, before coming back a final time to resurrect the villain and battle him one last time and then make the villain and himself immortal so that they can fight forever, a eternal struggle between good and evil to keep the balance. And within that story, you could have a whole bunch of just random shit, quite literally, you could have shit everywhere, you could replace every ‘the’ with ‘shit’ and every ‘a’ with ‘fuck’, and still be golden. It’s only the rough draft, right?
Still, even though I have mostly joked about what can go into the first draft, to be more serious about it, know that yes, you can write whatever your heart desires in the first draft, but you need to make sure that as you’re writing this draft you are planning on writing another rough draft, which means, while there can be complete shit in the rough draft, you need to have a basic story, something to pick up when you begin writing that second first draft, or in simplest terms, giving yourself something to work with. Give yourself something to work with, but don’t think about work as far as the first draft goes because the work will come later, just have fun with it. Do you think that half of the books published now would be successful if the writer didn’t have fun writing them? God, every Martin story would be such a drag if the guy was really getting bored with the story.
When writing a first draft, though, be fearless. This is your story, so don’t be afraid to go deep, go dark, go hard, or get complicated because if you’re fearless, then there will be a lot for you work with, and you will have a lot of fun. If I wasn’t fearless in my writing, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much, as my stories are full of obscenity, gore, darkness, and heavy metaphors which I will not censor to save the precious children who cannot bear to hear such things–if you know one of those parents, please, give them a stiff finger and tell them to pleasurably fuck off, they can go take their black permanent marker elsewhere while the rest of us read what’s truly on the page and not what should be on the page.
The Edited Draft
Or the draft in which you take a red (blue, black, highlighter, sparkle, pink, whatever color you use) pen and start striking and breaking things down. This is where you start to take that 1,000 page/pound story and you start to work it out on the treadmill, hard. I mean, with hardcore music and Mortal Kombat like action, you take a belt, a ruler, or something and you start to whip that bitch into shape, you insult it and yell at it, shouting such things as, “YOU ARE NOTHING! THIS PART MAKES NO SENSE, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN? YOU CALL THAT A METAPHOR? YOU CALL THAT A SIMILE? YOU CALL THAT A PLOT TWIST, I’VE SEEN BARNEY DO BETTER!” And you make that draft cry, make it feel like it is nothing, because if you don’t tear that puppy down, it’s going to tear you down, and you are the boss of our story, and not the other way around. In the rough draft, yeah, maybe you’re a bit of a push over because you’re a new parent, and you only want to make your baby happy. Well, now you’ve been hit with common sense and it’s time for you to start getting things together.
It is in this draft, and the many drafts around the base draft, that you fix such things as your literary devices, your grammatical errors, your plot holes, and things of the sort. This is not, though, where you start another draft all together, while it’s okay to regress, it’ better not to, it’s better to fix what you can before you think about starting over. Anyhow, it is also in the Edited Draft that you start to expand and trim, which are opposites, but you have to understand that yuo trim the fat, and you expand the muscle. The muscle being that one metaphor that you want to make really, really strong but you can’t because you don’t have space due to the excessive flab of your novel or story.
- Drivel-When you simply go on and on and on…and on still in no particular direction, it’s simply talking because you can and not because what you have to say matters, avoid this at all costs, and cut it out of your stories diet, because not even a little bit of this stuff is good for your story at all.
- Over-description-Describing every stone long the path, how the bark on a tree twisted this way, while another twisted, and not because you’re trying to be deep or meaningful, but just because you really don’t have faith in your reader to imagine these things without your assistance. This is something that you should allow your story to eat in modesty, but even then, you have to be careful to catch yourself when you go overboard.
- Lengthy inner monologues-This is an either or thing. In one house, inner dialogue can be a strong device to move the story along, to set up an atmosphere, explain, expand or even strengthen the ideas that you may be trying to portray in your story because you are giving insight onto something that you really believe, and you want to say this is the most decadent and personal way possible, so what better way than an inner dialogue/monologue? Here is an example from The Place Beyond the Courtyard that I believe speaks to this:
‘What is death to a man who tried to runaway beyond the homeland? Death is being trapped here. Death is being forced to live in exile, within exile, for that is the loneliest and darkest place of them all. Death is solitude within the confines of the solitude of men, forced to be with those who had also been condemned and born in exile and forced to listen to their silence. For there is more silence in the world than there is food, water, power, or even life itself; silence is the almighty force, the God of the Universe, though not may of us to choose to believe in him because he is silent.’ Of course, it could also go very bad. Inner monologue could turn into drivel as you could have a situation in which your character is depressed, and instead of being ‘deep’ and transcribing depression as something more than just the medical term, turning it into a very vital part of who your character is, you end up going on and on and on and on about how much your character hates him or herself, how they feel sorry for themselves, and it becomes very annoying. I know what a depressed person sounds like as I was once seriously depressed, and of course it wasn’t until I came out of it and found that some of my other friends had it that I couldn’t have been much better. I’m not saying that people who suffer from Depression are horrible, annoying people, it’s just the voice would come of as annoying in a book, and a writer must strive to transform this voice into something ‘beautiful’. While none of us are going to write Hamlet’s Character, you could learn a thing or two about turning the voice into something more than just that depressed voice of every teenager or adult, make it mean something more than just ‘Siiiiiiiiiiigggggggghhhhhhh alllllllll the time, for I am a depressed boy, I am suicidal, ooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOoooo woe is me!’ Get a life kid.
- Lengthy unnecessary dialogues-This,I feel, is much harder to do than any of these, as dialogue is already tricky, and to have an excessive amount of it is even trickier. Even the worst writers spend little time on dialogue because it is so hard to create an authentic voice and narrative that agrees with it in order to make the dialogue good. It seems I am lucky, for in my book The Farm I have often been praised for my natural, flowing dialogue, but you have to understand that, this is because I was able to immerse myself in my world that I had created, I knew how they would talk, I knew the terms and jargon they would use, and I truly felt like these were people and characters I knew, rather than just names and words on a page. I will talk about dialogue in a later post, but as a note now, dialogue is all about making it natural, making it flowing, making sure that it’s natural for the story; dialogue shouldn’t feel like someone who normally talks very ‘ghetto’ suddenly speaking properly to an authority figure, dialogue should match both the characters who speak them and the narrative for which they have been placed in.
- Too much tell and not enough show- I am guilty of this! I have often been known to tell more than I show, but this problem is easily fixed by the question, ‘How can I show them that someone is depressed, instead of telling them?’. Today, again, while working on The Place Beyond the Courtyard, my English teacher pointed out a line that told instead of showed:
“…and the song of sorrow is always played in the dining hall for our perpetual depression.”
The story takes place in a prison, I spent the previous paragraph describe the harsh environment they lived in. And again, they are in prison. I don’t think I need to tell you that they are depressed.
Now that we know what fat looks like, let’s talk about muscle. Firstly, there are far more muscles in writing than there is fat, which contradicts what you may have once believed some earlier period in your life. Muscles, as you all know, take time to grow and become bigger, better, and stronger, it doesn’t happen over night. These muscles, though, are not often toned by the majority of us who, though we dream of having an arm like the guy above or having that nice hourglass shape, never get to tone them. Still, I have personal belief that every person should carry more muscle than fat, and this is just as so in writing. In writing, too much fat results in Jabba the Hutt, whereas muscle results in an affect like that of the Hulk or Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if possible, try and get your story down to 1% fat, meaning, yes, you can have a few moments of over-description or a little bad dialogue (H.P. Lovecraft knew how to write a wonderful narrative, but his dialogue sucked) and maybe some weak metaphors, but for the most part your story needs to be a built or lean, muscled machine that looks to take down any and all who come in it’s way. So let’s look at what muscle in a story looks like:
- Literary Devices-Strong literary devices are key and essential to any good story telling. In your Edited Draft, you should strengthen, upgrade, and pump up those metaphors which are like the triceps of your story, literary devices not just metaphors I mean. The literary devices in your story are the parts that you are going to probably flex the most aside from it’s partner muscle the bicep, which would be the next piece of good writing on this list.
- Good Description-The bicep of your draft is Good Description. Earlier, I told you that H.P. Lovecraft sucked a dialogue, but boy he had hellagood description, which helped to outweigh his bad dialogue, along with his first person inner monologues. Believe it or not, you could have a story with literally no dialogue whatsoever, at the same time, there would be plenty of dialogue, because the best description says something, it is dialogue on it’s own, dialogue because it is communicating something and it speaking to the reader, getting them to believe something and hear something in their mind, in fact, description (writing in general) is probably the closest thing to telepathy, for not only am I speaking to you with my words, but I’m projecting images into your mind, I’m conjuring emotions within, and finally you’re evoking a response for the reader, all of these things make your writing look nice, and just as when you train your biceps, your arms look better, because who doesn’t want nice arms? Of course, know that you have to be able to train in literary devices, because in truth,k they say that the triceps is the largest muscle in the arm, and in order to have good biceps and arms in general, you have to train them the most.
- Immersion- This is something that comes along with the previous bullets. Immersion is likely the metal part of the work out, it’s the toning up of your mind, because without metal strength, you will have no physical strength, therefore, you need to work on being able to immerse your reader and yourself (for are you not a reader?) in the story if you ever want to really make it work. Immersion happens when you feel the cold of the wind in some Siberian tundra, immersion happens when you don’t question why something is the way it is because you’re so entangled in the story that you it just clicks, immersion happens when you and your reader feel like you’ve known this character or other characters aside from your main, for years, old friends that you’re only just coming back to. Included in the latest of the immersion pieces, characters are a key part of writing, and a thing that I will also talk about in a later post, and I mean, a really big post because characters drive the story, and not just the human or animal characters, I’m talking about the characters of setting and literary devices.
- Showing, not telling- The complete opposite of it’s fat counterpart, showing instead of telling does wonders to your story. As I said before, imagine that you have a depressed characters (I am using a depressed character because they are often the most complex characters, and the ones that are the hardest to write an get right as you write them because if you have not experienced it first had, you only know what’s going on the outside instead of the inside, but some of you might dare to ask, ‘But doesn’t that refute this bullet?’ No, because what’s going on inside is the inner monologue that I talked about) and instead of always telling us that he was sad or incredibly suicidal on this particular day, show us by going through his actions and his inner monologue. Believe it or not, yes, inner monologue is showing, to a point. Inner monologue is likely often filled with those beautiful literary devices we talked about, and in these literary devices, your inner monologue will likely show us and make comparisons to really make even you as a reader feel depressed. This bullet is likely most akin to your abs, as who doesn’t want to show off their abs to the ladies? Right? Right? That means being able to pull out all that fatty telling, because yes, we all have abs under there somewhere, it’s just a matter of burning all that fat in the fire and making them pop out and say ‘hello world’.
- World-Building- This bullet is most akin to your thigh muscles, as world building is what’s going to keep your book standing, for the most part. World building is often a major and immense part of your novel, and just as you want big, muscular thighs, you want big and muscular world building. World building is not always easy, but it usually just depends on the genre that you write. Take Urban Fantasy for an example. Urban Fantasy takes a city, like New York most often, and then adds fantasy elements to it, but you see, there are two parts to this world building: firstly, the writer needs to be able to build a new kind of New York, not the stereotypical New York that we all know and life, rather, they need to create a whole new rendition of it, because the Statue of Liberty could mean one thing for someone, but another for someone else, and yet another thing still for some other Joe. Secondly, the writer has to be able to create a convincing fantasy world that not only makes sense in this New York that they have created, but also just makes sense. You can’t say on one page that trolls were the cousins of goblins, but then call goblins the brothers of trolls; you cannot have one spell do this and another spell do the exact same thing, because then it becomes redundant and maybe one spell works better than the other, but unless your book happens to use something like cards or something, there is no such thing as a stronger version of the spell, stick with the magic is only stronger if you strengthen yourself and your abilities. But, if the writer fails to do both or one of these things, then he or she will fail in writing that book. You have to pump up your world building, know what good world building is versus bad. Fantasy writers have the best world building skills because they don’t have any other choice but to invent a whole new world, magical rules, law systems, and the like (and those are the good writers who actually go into that much detail to make sure that their world works, such as J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Tolkien, and others). Usually, contemporary or more modern novelists have the worst world building skills because their worlds likely include less fantastical, exciting, or extravagant elements that you might find in a zombie novel, Middle-Earth, or Panem. But the thing that you need to know about world building is that, world building is not always about becoming a fantasy writer, rather it’s about using your immersive skills to help create a specific atmosphere, tone, and voice for your world, it’s about putting in the small details: how every house on this one street had this kind of door, or how every tree in this town always had this kind of slant, or how autumn was a whole hell of a lot different in this town than it is in your town. You get what I’m saying, so get to the gym and start doing some squats!
- Word Choice and Usage-Ah the glorious pectorals, for which every man dreams of being able to bounce, having a great, broad chest that pushing against their shirt, and on occasion makes them look like a woman. Still, most of us guys dream of having nice pecs because pecs, abs, and arms will have the ladies swooning at the beach, so we need to work on that. Word choice and usage includes such things as how a word is used, how many times you use it, and why you use it, how it fits here in this story, and things of the like. If you don’t know how to choose and use words then your story will fall flat because it will be so out of place and disjointed that your reader will give up and eventually never come back, because there are better authors with better word choice and usage. This is not to say that someone is going to burn your book in fire because you had poor word choice, but if someone is sampling your book at Barnes and Noble (I imagine every writer imagines having his or her book on the New Releases and Bestseller shelf in like every genre section because it’s just that good) and it’s one of those bestsellers, you need to make sure that it’s bestseller worthy because, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed a book because words just didn’t the way the were supposed to, or the words that were used were above the average populous of modern readers, and this is not to say that we modern readers are stupid, it’s just, save your good word bullets for later on when you’ve already caught the reader; you want to first immerse your reader before you do anything crazy, you don’t want your reader constantly looking up a word, pulling and out of the story because they don’t understand this word and that word, how they fit together or why you even put it in there in the first place. So, start cramming definitions (your ‘good’ carbs) and reading a lot of fiction from your favorite authors and see how come the words they choose work when they work, how they work and the like. Do this all while doing push ups!
- Grammar- Gotta work them GLUTES! Well, and the rest of your body. Grammar, I believe, is the true toning up of the Edited Draft phase of your work. Grammar is truly where you take things apart, you fix any small mistakes that may cause confusion to the reader, you work hard to make sure that all your syntax is correct, and over all, you try and please the Grammar Nazis to the best of your abilities.
- Great Dialogue- Finally, you have your shoulder and neck muscles. Great Dialogue is one of the more essential parts of your work out routine. Some people would like to challenge that, you either know how to write good dialogue or you don’t. To a certain degree, I agree. Good dialogue comes from being able to talk to people, knowing how a conversation goes, knowing communion, and eavesdropping (one of the more pleasurable parts of being a writer is that, you can literally sit in Starbucks, pretend to be working on your computer, eavesdrop, and probably even barge into the conversation, with the only justification being that you are an author and you’re studying everyday dialogue. No one will ever question your authoritah again, as Cartman would say). Good Dialogue, though, also comes, again, from being able to immerse yourself in your world and being able to know how these people are going to talk, what they’re going on about, and things of the like. Dialogue falls flat when it’s either a) trying to hard or b) when it’s just unnatural. Some things to note about dialogue is that, all dialogue is a reflection of reality, how real people talk, and exaggerated sometimes for the writers sake. Good dialogue takes a little bit of dialogue from every place: the Starbucks, the neighborhood, the water cooler, wherever you hear people talking, which is most everywhere. Good dialogue then takes those conversations, twists them up to fit the voice of the story and then makes it normal, makes it feel just right, it makes you feel like you could talk to these guys. Bad dialogue is forced, flat, and correct. There are few people in everyday life who talk with perfect grammar. The majority of us were raised being told to say ‘may’ instead of ‘can’, yet we still use ‘can’ even though it’s asking ‘Do you have the ability to do this?’ rather than ‘Am I allowed to’, and yes, they are pretty much the same thing, it’s still proper to say ‘May’ instead of ‘can’, but that’s another matter. So, if you’re writing from a teenage girls perspective, don’t use ‘may I?’ use ‘Can I?’, because unless your character is either in the medieval era, raised by some auspicious family in Britain, or is just a proper bitch, don’t be proper; be natural. Good Dialogue also rolls off the tongue real easy, imagine if someone were to recite your lines in a play, how would their emotions and voice flow? Good dialogue is able to evoke emotion and it’s able to speak while speaking, and even without. Good dialogue means that, you shouldn’t have to go into great detail about how someone said something, their saying something should say enough about how it was said. Have great dialogue. It doesn’t get more simple than that guys.
THE FINAL DRAFT
So, here we are the end of the post, or close to it, with the final draft. The final draft is the competition, is where you are doing your final rehearsal before showing it to the world, it’s where you maybe trim just a little bit more fat off of your now lean and strong athlete, who despite popular belief, is just as nervous as you to be put on the shelf or be criticized by the public. The Final Draft is the draft that you prep by taking it out of whatever funky font you had it in the first place and put in MLA Manuscript format, which means Courier New or Times New Roman (TNR is my favorite font, so that’s good for me), 12pt, one inch margins all around, or whatever specifications your future agent or publisher requires you to have along with your story. The Final Draft is the draft that has your heart pumping and has you waiting and anticipating, pacing up and down your room as you wait for the first review from your agent or ARC reader. There is not a lot to say about the final draft, as it’s self exclamatory, but know this: every final draft is an edited draft, but not every edited draft is a final draft, and not every rough draft will make it to the edited draft, just as every edited draft will not always regress back into a rough draft. These are the rules of the draft, and they should be heeded like a mother heeds a child to keep his hand from the stove if he dears getting burned (but if you do fancy getting a nice singe mark to show all your friends, then I call you an admirable soul for you fear nothing, but this may ultimately be your demise, un-thicken your skin and loosen your backbone some, for it may just save you from a bad, rash decision in the future).
So, one very,very long post later, here we are at the conclusion of this first post in a great series of them. Drafts are your bread and butter, they are what you work with, they are what you use in order to get that book published, they are what you use when you need a little inspiration, they are your fat, angel child that you need to turn into a tough warrior ready to take on the big, bad criticizing world before it. Burn the fat, tone up the muscle, and train some more until you’re ready to go to the big event where you get to show of your beautiful story in all it’s oil clad glory! So get writing, there are many drafts ahead, an you have no time to lose, for every draft not written, that is one story that will never be found.