From first word to final publication (Part 2)
After I’ve completed the first draft, I know the story I’m telling. But because I was still learning it while I wrote that initial version, it leaves a lot to be desired. Having noted the changes that I know need to be made, I go through and write essentially the same story all over again – trying to do a better job of it while incorporating those changes.
Those range from smaller details to larger ones, certain limited corrections to pervasive adjustments. What kind of changes? I’m not sure I could make a comprehensive list, but I’ll give some examples.
I might need to alter the times a certain character arrives at or leaves work, or the precise way a function on a watch works – small details I often don’t know when I start writing the story, but do by the end. Often they’re not important, and may not even be things you’d notice – but I don’t always know myself what’s important, so I try to get all the tiny details right and make sure they’re consistent.
Sometimes, though, by the end of the first draft I’ve realized a tiny detail is vital to the story – then I also need to make sure it’s there early in the book. And in a way that’s natural to the flow of the story.
When I’m writing a new character (or a minor one I haven’t really gotten the chance to know well) I really get to know them as I spend all that time in their head writing the first draft. So when I go back to rewrite, I often find the way I portrayed them in the early going doesn’t quite nail their character.
Now I have the opportunity to get their voice right. Or maybe it’s not a matter of their voice, but that I’ve come to recognize certain themes or issues with a character and their story and want to bring those out more. Since I hadn’t realized they were there the first time around, this is a matter of subtly changing what is or isn’t emphasized.
Maybe I need to change where a scene begins or ends. I think of each scene (and chapter, which is often the same thing for me) as a little story itself – a piece of the puzzle that’s the larger story.
Now that I know how that piece fits in (and what it needs to accomplish) I have to make sure it does everything it’s supposed to. Which can mean adding action or dialogue or description to make sure a character moment hits the right note, or to propel a part of the plot towards what comes next.
This is a fairly time-consuming process. I’m writing the same story all over again, but this time I’m not blazing a new trail, concerned only with finding a good path to get me to a particular destination – I’m preparing that path for others to travel along, clearing away obstacles and making sure all the signs point the right way, to make sure everyone can enjoy the journey and not get lost.
Once I’ve finished, though, all that remains is the editing and proofing.