Lessons from the third draft

apsarae6edc5It’s been two years. People are beginning to ask, aren’t you nearly finished with your novel? You must be working on the final edits. And I have to correct them and explain that I’m actually writing a third draft. A tense silence falls, or there’s a lot of head nodding. Either convention will do to signal that we’ve got to move the conversation along. No need to dwell on the obvious problem.

Two years? C’mon? How can someone still be writing new scenes, heck even chapters, after two years? Dead novel writing, they suspect. Remember William Hurt in One True Thing? Yeah, like that.

But I am cool with it, pretty much. I’m learning something from round three, which is a mix of writing and editing. I hope it will be one heck of a cocktail in the end, filled with the right balance of syrups and bitters. One of the things that’s different this time is my lens. Instead of focusing on each chapter’s arc, I’m looking at three or four chapters together in a block and see if they hang together and make a working part.

Okay, I’ve only done this for the first four chapters so far, but here’s what I do know (shaking a finger and speaking with Bernie Sanders’ Brooklyn accent): Chapter four told me that chapter 1 was missing. I mean missing. The old chapter 1 had to become chapter 2 and chapter 2 had to move up to 3, etc. And the real chapter 1 was missing like a black hole. It was such a powerful hole that the whole novel was going to collapse if I didn’t write it. So I did. 

Why was it missing? Why hadn’t I realized this before? Well, I kind of did. I liked the old chapter 1 but I knew that it wasn’t quite working because I didn’t totally understand one of my main characters, and I wasn’t letting her tell her story. I was hiding the fact that the character, who is very stoic, is actually scared to death. Now, when I look at her new introduction, which lays it out there so clearly, I’m just glad that I finally got over hiding that, because who did I think I was fooling? I’m more sure of the character and hopefully the reader will be more sure of this story.

So draft three is all about characters and the truth. I need to stop worrying about plot lines and go back to the characters and figure out if I’ve written them true or succumbed to stock characters or held something back. Is each and every one playing his or her part in the story’s theme? How honest is each character with himself or herself? Those who aren’t very honest are really hard to write, but I find that most of them do have some areas of self deception. And each one has a reason for the self deception, too. I need to suss these out.







2 thoughts on “Lessons from the third draft

  1. Boyoboy, do I ever understand that process. Not that I’m writing a novel, but I do weigh in as Lee structures and restructures her non-fiction pieces. Heck, there are novelists who spend years and years before a finished product emerges. Have at it!


  2. Pingback: Flakey with a nice crust: The Fireman by Joe Hill | Imagined Worlds | L.A. Barnitz

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