Sorry folks, I’m not talking about football. I’m talking drafts of your story! How many drafts do you need? Which one do you pick to send out to agents/editors/the self-published universe?
I’m here to help, although, I’m just as clueless and can’t take any credit for this. I had the amazing opportunity over the winter to meet Mary Burton at my Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America meeting. She talked to us for hours about crafting amazing stories.
One of the great things she gave us was a draft guide in the way of a bookmark! It explains what you should concentrate on with each draft to get the most out of your time. Here is her guide:
Draft 1: Sloppy Copy
Draft 2: Structure & Order
Draft 3: Themes, Backstory, & Pacing
Draft 4: Dialogue
Draft 3: The Big Read & Proof
Draft 6: Read Aloud & Proof
STOP PANICKING! I can feel you pulling away from me right now, shaking your head in denial about how much work it is to start, polish, and complete a book. Let me break it down in terms most of us can understand: Laundry. (Which reminds me, I really need to do a load…be right back…)
Draft 1: Dirty laundry
In this draft, dig through the smelly, disgusting laundry pile to find that one machine-washable shirt that you know will totally make your eyes pop. Finding a story can be difficult. Really search through your mind and find characters that are ready to speak to you. How do you get it on paper? Set a word goal each day.
Did you know if you wrote 2,000 words a day, you’d have a 60,000 word book in a month? It all adds up. Remember, the first draft is going to stink and be embarrassing. Just get it all down on paper.
Remember – you can’t edit a blank page!
Draft 2: Stain treat
This shirt is covered in some nasty crap. Grab that stain treater and get working! After you find the story you want and get it down on paper, it’s time to go through and get out the parts that are dragging it down.
Draft 3: Put the shirt in the wash
It’s time to really make this shirt smell good and get the rest of the grossness off. Work on the pacing of each chapter and remember to kill your darlings. No matter how much you like a scene, if it stops the momentum of the book, you can’t keep it. Save it for another book, I promise you’ll use it.
Make sure your themes and backstory are well developed and consistent. Your character’s history is important — just don’t info dump. If you’re having trouble understanding your characters, interview them!
No really, sit down and “interview” your trouble characters, typing their answers. You’ll get a sense of their voice and really get to know them better.
Draft 4: Put the shirt in the dryer
Now that all the stains are gone and the shirt is rung out, put it in the dryer. Spend the time you need on your dialogue. Is it believable? Do your characters sound different from each other? Do they talk too much? Too little?
Make sure to do your research! If you’re dealing with a different language, find someone who speaks that language to work with you. Repeat after me: Google translator is NOT good enough. Want to portray a certain dialect? Make sure you talk to someone knowledgable in it. Don’t look stupid.
Draft 5: Pull out that ironing board
Now, we’re at the fun part! Turn that iron on and get pressing. This is your big read. The best suggestion I’ve ever gotten was to print the book out and read it page by page.
You’ve read it so many times on the screen that reading a printed copy will help you catch errors you have skimmed over dozens of times. I like to read upside down, too, to help catch punctuation errors.
Now would be a great time to use your beta readers! Look for a consistency in their comments. They’re able to catch things that you may have missed.
Draft 6: Hang up the shirt
Your shirt is almost ready for the big event. Hang it up, let it sit for a week and air out. Then put that shirt on and go look in the mirror. Draft six is your final proof, your “looking in the mirror” moment.
You’re pulling away again. I hear, “why should I take a break? I’m so close to being done!”
Because your head is too into the book to give it a fair read. Take a step back and give it some breathing room. Take a few days, a week, even a month.
Then, when you’re ready, read the book aloud. Do you stumble over any sentences? If you stumble, your readers will stumble. Does your dialogue sound natural for your character?
If there’s a love scene, are all the parts/bodies/clothes/couches/beds in the right place? Remember, character’s clothes don’t just fall off and they don’t have six hands. (Unless you write paranormal, I suppose.) Make sure they’re not on the floor one moment and in the shower doing a handstand in the next sentence.
So which draft do you pick? The Final Copy (Draft 7). By using your time wisely, you can be done with your first draft in one to two months. Keep that schedule and keep those fingers going.
Go forth and be epic — I believe in you.
- Sewing Machine Day
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Wishing You Laughter & Good Books,
Bold. Bewitching. Breathtaking.
Author of Hunting Witch Hazel featured in Falling Hard (A New Adult Anthology).