Amadeus posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’m in the middle of a first draft, but I’ve changed the plot quite a bit. I haven’t rewritten anything yet, though, so here’s my question: should I just rewrite the parts where I’ve changed the plot, before I write the second draft? Or should I wait until I’ve done some top-layer editing (storyline, act structure, etc.) and make the changes in the second draft?
Randy sez: A lot depends on how you want to do it. There are many roads to writing a great novel, and you should choose the one that feels most comfortable to you. I’ll outline below the way I do it, but it’s not graven in granite that you have to do it this way.
Be aware that it’s perfectly normal and okay to change the plot in mid-course while writing your first draft. I do that all the time and I think it improves the story and saves time, even if it makes the first draft a little confusing and less coherent.
Here’s what I’d do, which you can follow or modify to suit yourself:
- Finish the first draft. A book that never gets finished is a book you’ll never sell. This is obvious to some people and not obvious to others but it’s a simple fact.
- Rethink the Big Picture stuff. Can I improve the one-sentence summary? Do I understand the Three-Act Structure better now? Can I strengthen the disasters at the ends of Acts 1 and 2 and the disaster in the middle of Act 2?
- Edit the scene list. A key part of my Snowflake method is a list of scenes. This is the one part of the Snowflake that I find most essential in writing the first draft and editing the second (and all succeeding drafts for that matter). Which scenes aren’t working? Why aren’t they working? Should I buff them up, or move them to a new place in the story, or delete them altogether? This is a good place to apply some of the analytical tools that I teach in my article “Writing the Perfect Scene” here on this site.
- Make a copy of the first draft into a new file. I don’t ever want to edit the original. I want to edit a copy so I can always get back to the original if I wind up disimproving things.
- Edit the new copy straight through, guided by my new scene list. If the next scene in the list is fine, then polish it up a bit to catch the word-smithing issues, and then move on to the next. If the scene needs to be moved from somewhere, move it to its new location now. If the scene needs major buffing up or a complete rewrite, do that now. Delete any scenes that need to die. (I’ll still have them in the original first draft, because I’m working on a COPY, not the original.)
- Keep going until the second draft is done. Again, if you never finish a draft, you can’t sell the book. Always keep focused on the tactical goal — to get the next draft done.
If you follow the above procedure, then you’ll get through the first draft, then through the second draft, then through the third draft, in a nice and organized way. You’ll always have a clear record of what you wrote first, how you edited it later, and so on.
Please understand that this isn’t the only way to work. It works for me. If it works for you, then follow it. If you need to adapt it, do so. The only unbreakable in writing fiction is that there are no unbreakable rules.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
I finish the first draft according to the new direction I’m going before going back and changing the scenes I’ve already written. Then when I do my read through of my entire (now finished) manuscript, I note the changes I need to do to match up the plots. I do it this way so I don’t lose the momentum I have in finishing my manuscript.
Carrie L. Lewis says
I cannot express strongly enough how important it is to make the copy Randy suggested. Simple as it sounds, I had to learn the hard way to never make major changes on any draft without making a new copy. Every draft is a new document.
I do the same as Morgan.