Chain of Drafts

On Twitter Jaye Wells asked the following question (not to me, mind, but to Twitter in general): “Question for the writer folk. Are your drafts short or long? I always end up adding 5-10k in revisions (sometimes more).” This is one of those things that’s different for everyone. Indeed, some people said their second drafts double in length, others immediately pointed out Stephen King’s math that first draft minus 10% equals second draft.

Here’s how I tend to view my drafts.

Rough draft: This is draft represents a complete story, largely the story that I set out to tell. I use this word because it is very rough. Numbered drafts are reserved for those drafts I’m willing to let anyone other than a coauthor see. However, this draft does have a complete plot, it has most of the characters who will end up in a story, there are no missing scenes (which is not to say I won’t have to add scenes). It is a draft, rather than an outline.

First draft: This draft typically makes the story longer. It includes such steps as making sure the voice of the characters are consistent throughout, or just that the characters even all have distinct voices. It seeds in any red herrings or Chekhov guns I want to use in the story. It even, in extreme cases where I have themes, is where I tend to make sure everything is pointing towards the theme. I’ll also use this draft to layer in additional description. It’s my first draft I’m willing to let people see, or what I might also call my alpha reader draft.

Second draft: This draft typically makes the story shorter. This is where things get punched up, and where I’m more likely to implement the ideas purposed by King or in The 10% Solution. The process of adding everything the first draft added will often screw with the pacing of the story, or of scenes, this is the chance to preserve the new story I created in the first draft, but with an eye towards where I over bulked. This draft may end up longer or shorter than the rough draft. Typically longer. I’ll add 10%, then take away 10%, and while that sounds like equilibrium, it actually is a net gain in words when you run the math.

Additional drafts: These are the rock tumbler drafts. Each time I run through the story using finer and finer grit until I’m happy with the polish. There aren’t a set number of these drafts, and it’s rare that I don’t do at least some polish on a story between submissions, as the time it’s out with an anthology or publisher is typically just enough time to think of something else I wanted to do with it.

So how many drafts does a story need? Exactly as many as it does, no more and no less. And that’s something I can’t even pretend to describe, because I’m still figuring it out myself, and possibly always will be.

  1. avatar

    #1 by Linda Adams on July 19, 2012 - 9:35 pm

    My first draft is getting the words down. A second draft deals with the flotsam that gets into the story — essentially a very fast edit to get rid of characters that self-edited along the way, names that changed, delete pieces that no longer are necessary, etc. After that, for a novel, it’s seismic shifting as I rearrange scenes and chapters to find the flow.

    With novels, I always run significantly short. Adding more wordage is very difficult and requires the book be pulled apart — and often ends up staying in the same range of word count anyway.

    With short stories, I just decide up front how long it will be, and I hit the mark within 100 words.

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