Saturday, July 24, 2010

Emergency! First Draft Disaster



In his book Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell mentions Sol Stein's technique for revision. It's called the triage method, where you work from the big issues down to the small.

The dictionary states "Triage is used on the battlefield, at disaster sites, and in hospital emergency rooms when limited medical resources must be allocated."

I get it: first draft = disaster. This reduces the pressure to make the first draft a beautiful, perfect thing. Now that we know it will be a disaster, how do we fix it? Bell suggests tackling revisions in this order:
  1. Let it cool. Bell suggests two or three weeks.
  2. Get mentally prepared. Bell recommends thinking of revision as getting to take the test over and over again, improving our grade along the way.
  3. Read it through. This is where Bell mentions triage. Start the revision looking for overall story and structure, then read it again for small details.
  4. Brood over what you've done. Bell suggests we think about our draft for five to seven days. Jot down notes.
  5. Write the second draft.
  6. Refine. Set it aside for a week, then read through it again to ensure character, plot, scenes and theme are the way we want them.
  7. Polish. Check for hook, chapter endings, action & reaction, and grammar.
Bell quotes Ray Bradbury. "Let your characters have their way. Let your secret life be lived. Then at your leisure, in the succeeding weeks, months or years, you let the story cool off and then, instead of rewriting, you relive it."

Ahhh, relive it. I like that. Now, off to create my own disaster!

What techniques do you use when revising your manuscript?


30 comments:

  1. I really need to read this book. This stuff is so awesome. I'm still in my first draft, but I get so bogged down in trying to make it perfect. So hard for me to see the big picture sometimes...

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  2. Nomes, I hear you. My inner editor is busy trying to squash everything I'm writing. I must resist this during my first draft!

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  3. I LOVE Ray Bradbury and I love that quote.

    This is another piece of yours that I'm book marking!

    I'm not as far as revision, I'm not far at ALL.

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  4. This is great advice. I stick pretty close to this when I revise, however, I don't seem to have the patience to let it sit long enough between edits.

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  5. I think the waiting part is the hardest, but that's the time to start a new project. When you do that, the time will fly and all of a sudden, you can look at the first manuscript with truly fresh eyes. Not only have you not looked at it, but you have occupied your mind with something else.

    Good luck with your revisions. :-)

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  6. That sounds about right. Revision can be mind bending at times, but it's amazing what it does to your book. :)

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  7. I use this method. And I love Sol Stein's book. I just finished rereading it.

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  8. Great advice! I like setting it aside - and I tend to revise for one thing at a time. Thanks for sharing :)

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  9. Sounds like a good book. I first look for spelling and grammar issues. Then I work on things that aren't clear or missing. Look for plot holes. I keep reading and revising until it's less like a rough draft. Then it's fit for other eyes.

    I probably need a better method. I'm going to check out this book.

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  10. I have a folder of stuff I use to revise with.More this time than ever as I don't want to take any shortcuts.

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  11. I never take a break from first draft completion to the revision process. I can't. It is not about being impatient; I just like having the characters in my head. I know them too well to just put them aside to cool off for a few weeks.

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  12. My process is a lot like what he said. I write the first draft straight through, as fast as I can, just to do the bones of the story down on paper. Then comes the much longer process: revision! I'm seem to be stuck in an endless loop of revision right now. It's just so frustrating - I know the cooling down periods are necessary, but sometimes it seems like it will never be done!

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  13. Catchy title!
    All good points & I think most writers employ them to varying degrees.

    The best rule is to walk away from it for a while--days--preferably a few weeks. Returning to it will show you things that you probably missed when in the midst of your first draft.

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  14. Great tips, Julie! I've got this book too, but I've got to dig it out again now that I've got a wip!

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  15. I'm a terror for going backwards too, with my first draft in an attempt to make it 'perfect'. What it does is make it s-l-o-w! Sounds like a useful reference book to have on hand.

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  16. Relive it, I like that too! I too believe strongly in letting yourself write a rough draft. When I go back over it on the print out and red pen stage I approach it as if I'm an editor who is reading the story for what it is and looking for errors and ways to improve it. I catch a lot that way!

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  17. Wow, I love this Julie. I completely agree with the "let it cool" part simply because sometimes everyone needs space from their work to see clearly. I co-author and so my situation is a little different. Whenever I am stumped or blocked in any way, I have another set of eyes to take over and try to pick up the pieces. Great post.

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  18. Thanks for all these great comments and revision suggestions!

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  19. I love the concept of "triage" in revision. It totally makes sense!

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  20. Lydia, me too! Nice way to breath life into something that needs work.

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  21. I love these tips! I'm almost done with my new WIP and I def. plan on letting it cool. I must admit I only let it cool about a week or so. I like the middle all warm and gooey. ;)

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  22. Julie..a friend bought a copy of the book 'Plot and Structure' for me from America. But as I am rewriting my manuscript as well as editing it, I have not yet gone through the book.
    The concept of Triage sounds good. I am planning to read the book now, before I tackle the rest of the manuscript.
    My first drafts are disasters. *Sigh*

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  23. T. Anne, these are good tips. I just hope I can remember them!

    Rachna, this book is an excellent resource. I'm glad you already have it!

    Nora, thanks for stopping by!

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  24. OMG I love that!!! RELIVE it. I LOVE it. Did I mention I LOVE it? Because I love it. (I might have had a little too much caffeine today)

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  25. Lisa, do you love it? I do too!

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  26. Thanks for this great information as disasters can take place any time and precautions must be taken for it. Keep posting more on this information.

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