My Early Revision Levels

Last week I talked about my reluctance to set aside a draft until I was comfortable with its overall consistency and quality. This week I’ll share the process that’s evolved over time. Please note this isn’t a formal method. Until I decided to share it here I’d never written it down. It is proof, though, that over time we each find our own way to write a novel.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

As it stands now my novels go through several early revision stages. Some are uncomplicated, others more complex. Keep in mind that none are cast in stone. Here we go…

Discovery Draft
I’ve seen this name used several times, but can’t recall where. I always start with at least preliminary character sketches and a narrative outline. Of course, there’s also all my fantasy world resources, which are considerable. After that I throw my characters together and the fun begins.

I also draft at a gallop, a technique I discovered in Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. Before his advice I’d move at a turtle’s pace, agonizing over editing details. The end result was the flame that ignited the book was smoke before I’d gotten far and I’d quit. Since then? Nine novels completed with me writing like a grass fire with a tailwind. Last April, for instance, I completed a draft of 117K in 30 days.

*Sometimes I’ll back up and edit for 5-10 minutes to warm up before a day’s session. Significant, future changes go into an “Issues” file or are inserted as comments.

Congruence Draft
This consists of four primary tasks that are macro in nature. Another way to look at it is making sure everything is in place for the later revision levels.

Cover Art: CA Hawthorne

Cover Art: CA Hawthorne

  1. Creating an overall plan to even out the draft.
  2. Shifting scenes around to accommodate structure. For instance, for Torment Surfacing, because my primary characters were separated I rearranges scenes so the story checked in with them more frequently.
  3. In rare instances I’ll delete entire scenes at this stage.
  4. Inserting early missing scenes because the story took unexpected turns. They’re written quickly like they were a part of the Discovery Draft. In Torment Surfacing a scene was added early because a character gained unforeseen importance later.

Revision Level 1 (Hatchet Draft)
Within this draft is when I set the story aside for awhile. I think of it as the Hatchet Draft because I swing away, making big cuts. The focus is on scenes and paragraphs.

Chop! Chop!

After drafting Torment Surfacing I cut 8,000 net words focusing on scenes needing eliminated or cut down. While drafting I become wordy when I wander from the narrative outline. In select cases I’ll fix smaller issues, but most become comments or entries in the Issues file. When I return to the WIP after letting it sit I return to this revision level looking to remove more big chunks.

Christina #2

Christina #2

Revision Level 2 (Dagger Draft)
It’s here that I first skim through the WIP beginning to end focusing on cutting/fixing paragraphs and sentences. The focus is on wordiness and just badly written passages. In other words, superficial editing.

You’re no doubt noticing how my focus becomes more refined as I go as I avoid lavishing time on what will be changed later. Yes, the story is now 8K shorter, but 13K was cut and 5K added in the form of inserted scenes. 13K removed with minimal effort! What a waste if I’d wasted time on all those words. I waste enough time already.

Revision Level 3 (Scalpel Drafts)
This is all the finer editing like word choice, dialog, arcs, foreshadowing, etc. In other words, A LOT of time is spent here. All that writing advice you read online? Yeah, most of that would fit here. This is where many people start. When I get here I say, “Okay, now the real work begins.”

And that’s it.

Some of this might aid you. Or not. It all depends on your present approach. Have a different way? Feel free to share. See ways to incorporate some of my ideas into your approach (again, please share)? I know I’m always incorporating new ideas into my methods.

3 Replies to “My Early Revision Levels”

  1. Pingback: My Early Revision Levels | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. Thanks for sharing this precious info on how your write. I’m naturally a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I’ve always admired outliners and thought they had a big advantage. My current novel is outlined. It was moving along well until I reached about the 50% mark on the first draft. Then I ran out of gas and felt unmotivated. I was also writing it very fast without editing. Usually I edit as I go, and waste tons of time. Anyway, I’m trying to find my own balance between writing without any outline or preconceived ideas and writing with a detailed outline the way some of the pros do. I appreciate your ideas. Thanks.

    • Your reference to “balance” summed it all up. I’m neither a pantser or a plotter. Few are. I see the advantages of outlining, but am also a firm believer in chasing inspiration as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the core story. Besides, I’ve seen strict outlines become stunted stories. My narrative outlines are flexible and most nights I update it after drafting. The best of luck to you with finding your own mix.

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