Sunday, August 26, 2007

The process

My friend asked me how I go about writing/finishing a book (after the first draft is complete). I think the question was, do you do it all at once or a go through it a stage at a time and concentrate on dialog, and then prose, and then characters, etc. My first answer was no, I just go through it and do it all.

But now that I'm going through it and doing it all, I've changed my answer. The first draft is a dump of my ideas, arranged in the order I think they should happen--written toward a goal I hope to achieve. (ie, happily ever after, good triumphing evil, only the good die young)

The second draft (for me) is more "connect the dots" than anything. During the download of ideas I often (translate ALWAYS) stumble on other ideas that I'd never dreamed of in my original plan. Most of the time, I have to really adjust the beginning to match the end and foreshadow some of those ideas earlier in the story so it flows from one scene (dot) to the next.

The third draft I do in hard copy because it reads different. It always has, it always will. End of story. Something about the relationship between black words on white paper transforms the story. In this draft I'm looking for holes, weak areas and things that don't add up. I'm also flipping back and forth between scenes adding one sentence clues or thoughts to scenes either before or after. These are those little details that take it from ordinary to Ooh. I'm also looking at my prose, my settings and my characters and especially the continuity of my story. Is it Monday on one page and Saturday on the next? Raining and then sunny? Morning and then night?

By the end of the fourth draft, I'm ready to send it out to readers. I pick two or three, and ask them to read it for enjoyment--not for mistakes or typos. I don't want them to be editors because I've already done that work. I wanted them to be readers. I ask them to give feedback on a select number of things that are above and beyond the "is it good?" question.

I want to know if they were confused at any part of the story? Did they find themselves skimming anywhere? At any time while they were reading did they catch themselves "checking out" to think about what they needed at the grocery? Did anything make them mad? (we've all read books we want to launch across the room because the characters or premise is so inane.) Does it pass the "would she really" test? (You know this one, heroine in the dark house all alone because everyone else has disappeared or been found dead. She hears a sound. It's coming from the basement. She thinks, I should take this butter knife and go investigate.... And in the audience we are shouting, YOU IDIOT. Come on...would she really?)

The last, and one of the most important questions I ask is, did you want another outcome? Did you think I was leading you to one ending only to find yourself at another? This one always brings a jackpot. If the answer is no, the ending was satisfying and I loved how it wrapped up--ah, it's a wonderful thing. But if the answer is yes, I wanted it to end like... Well, sometimes you discover that you've laid the groundwork for something even better than you'd imagined. It's also a wonderful thing.

This is how I do it, anyway. It's a lot of drafts, but when I'm striving for the best book I can write, that's what I need to do. :-)


India Carolina said...

Hi Erin,
Thanks for sharing that process. Makes me feel a bit less lonely as I revise for the umpteenth time!


Erin Grady said...

Hi Amy, glad the post helped. It is a long and lonley process. When people ask me when I know my book is really finished, I tell them, "when I can't bring myself to read it one more time." :-)