Last week I talked about my incredibly involved, complicated method for writing the second draft of a book.
My method for revisions for each additional draft looks similar to that first revision round, but on a smaller scale. For me, the second draft tends to be the most headache-inducing, and from this point on it seems to get progressively easier. Each draft goes a little bit faster than the last one. Each draft sucks a little bit less than the last one. Each draft gets a little bit closer to feeling like A Book.
Read, Brainstorm, Revise, Repeat
Depending on how much time I take off in between drafts, I may or may not re-read the most recent draft before jumping into revisions. Whether or not I’m doing a complete read-through, though, I’m always looking at the book with a critical eye. I’m constantly asking myself: What don’t I like? What isn’t working? What can I do better?
I make a list of things I’m still not happy with (if I don’t already have one started), and start problem solving. Just like with the Second Draft, chapters move around, characters become more interesting, and world-building is expanded as I uncover more information about the story I’m trying to tell.
Maybe I’m still not happy with the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. So for this draft, I’m really going to focus on their relationship and ask myself how I can inject more sparks. Does their first meeting sizzle? Is there enough internal and external conflict keeping them apart? Are there enough reasons for them to be attracted to each other to keep them both from just walking away? Am I crushing on the hero, and if not, how can I make him more swoon-worthy?
I brainstorm. I take notes. I figure out what needs to change and start making a plan for how to change it.
Then, when I feel like I might have a solution that works, I start making those changes. Depending on the level of revisions still required, I might start at the beginning and work through the whole manuscript again, or I might determine which scenes really need my attention and just focus on those.
After the completion of each round, I save that draft in a special “drafts” folder on my computer, so that I can always go back and revert to a scene in an old draft if I decide that I liked it better than the newer one. (Note: I have never actually done this, I just like knowing that I could.) These old drafts also become a gold mine for things like “deleted scenes” that you can use for bonus content later.
You Don’t Have to Do Everything All at Once
There are a lot of things to keep track of when you’re writing a novel. Things like:
– Do all of your characters have logical and interesting character arcs?
– Is the villain a good foil for the protagonist?
– Do the subplots play a big enough role in the major plot?
– Is the world-building authentic?
– Are you bringing the setting to life through sensory detail?
– Does each character speak with their own unique voice?
– Does the romance include enough tension?
– Does the suspense build throughout the plot?
– Is the climax satisfactory?
– Does the resolution tie up all of the loose ends?
And on and on and on and on . . .
My point of listing all this is not to frighten or intimidate, but to show that it is a lot to take in, and impossible for most of us to keep in mind all at once. Because of this, I find myself focusing on different aspects with each revision round.
The first and second drafts are all about getting to know my characters and figuring out a plot that works.
Alternatively, the third draft might be focusing on the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses and their overall character arc. Maybe this will also include working on the romance or the relationship between the protagonist and the villain.
The fourth draft, then, might be more focused on world-building and setting details.
It isn’t that I’m completely ignoring other aspects of storytelling during each draft, but it’s easier for me to concentrate on one thing at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once.
On Themes and Symbolism
Waaaaay back when I was talking about brainstorming a new writing project, I mentioned themes. Often, my first hint of a theme comes from my initial ideas for the protagonist. When I’m asking myself what my protagonist needs (acceptance, self-confidence, freedom) or what they’re afraid of (loneliness, death, abandonment), I’m tapping into some of the deeper messages that this story is going to convey.
At the time, though, that’s merely a passing thought. My goal is to tell an exciting story with interesting characters, not point out the social injustices of the modern world. However, at some point (usually around the fourth or fifth draft), some of these deeper themes have become inherent to the story.
Although I’m not the type of writer to intentionally plant a whole lot of symbolism in my work, I think it’s worthwhile to take some time and look at the larger themes in your story and see if you can intensify them. Themes can be anything from love, friendship, self-independence, or freedom, to war, envy, vanity, or prejudice.
While you’re considering what themes have cropped up in your work, also keep an eye out for images that keep reappearing. Half the time I don’t realize I’ve tied a specific image or prop in the story to a deeper theme until I start looking for it.
For example, in one of the later drafts of Cinder, it occurred to me that Cinder’s cyborg foot played a role in almost all of the Big Scenes throughout the story. Originally I’d focused so much on the foot because I’d been trying to foreshadow some of the story’s later events, but it occurred to me that her foot was no longer just a plot device. Rather it had, in many ways, become the symbol of everything Cinder hates about her cyborg identity. Her foot, which is two sizes too small, beat up, and sometimes missing entirely, was directly tied into her self-worth and her yearning for freedom—freedom from her stepmother and freedom from society’s anti-cyborg prejudices.
Once I realized how these two things had connected themselves, I went back and added in some descriptions to try to really bring this symbolism to the surface.
How many readers will notice? Very few, maybe none. And that’s okay. That’s good, actually, because the last thing I want is for a reader to stop mid-story and think “Oh, hey, check out that symbolism!” But my hope is that giving themes extra consideration will give more emotional depth and meaning to the story as a whole.
How Many Drafts / Revision Rounds?
I often get asked how many drafts I complete for my books, and the easy answer is: As many as it takes. There’s no rule here. Some books are more complicated and require more work. Some books come together really fast and require relatively few revisions. Most books fall somewhere in between.
Generally, I would say it takes me about four to five drafts to feel confident enough about a book to send it to my beta readers and editor. That’s the first time anyone gets to see it, and I want to get to a point where I feel like I’ve pushed the book as far as I can before letting someone else take a look. (Other writers choose to work with their betas or editor much earlier in the process.
Do whatever you’re comfortable with.)
Once I’ve sent it off to my betas and editor, I’ll get another simmering period, and then it’s time for my final round of revisions. I’ll be talking more about all that later this week!