“Oh, so that’s a rough draft. I’ve always wondered.”
This was the remark a student made in response to my comment about his research paper: “When you make your points in the order you found them, that’s a rough draft.”
I am a seasoned writer. Another way to put it: if I’m not seasoned by now, I never will be.
Guess what I did with my latest novel, Wealth Whispers?
Ugh. I sent my editor what I thought was a completed story. Her feedback informed me that what she received was a rough draft.
Quite a few of her margin comments were “too late.” Especially in the later part of the story. Why did I introduce these plot points so late? Um. Because that’s when I thought of them. Rookie mistake!
The editorial letter was brutal. But the ray of hope was her acknowledgement of the “good bones” of the story.
Rough Draft: It Can Still Have Good Bones
I am a meticulous plotter/pacer. If I am going for a story with 80,000 words, I want the 40K-word mark to have a good twist. The idea is to have continuous fresh energy and a continuous unfolding of plot. Relentless forward motion.
Here’s how I do it. I open up two pages in my writing journal. Across one page I draw a line where I mark out each chapter as I go. On the page above I list the scenes, top to bottom, that take place across an indicated succession of chapters.
Look at the second page of my story/scene time-line, below. I relished noting where I hit 20K-, 30K- and 40K-word marks.
Without giving away anything, I can say that the plot twist does come at the mid-point. So I was on the right track. And I kept going down that track in my original (rough draft) version.
Below, you see that I am nearing the end. I’m satisfied I have a good balance of POVs. The scene changes reassure me that the story is moving along nicely. I hit 60,000 words – that is 3/4 – and I still felt good.
Here’s how the chapters and scenes break down:
First quarter: chapters 1 – 10 occur on a Thursday and have five scene changes.
Second quarter: chapters 11 – 20 occur on a Friday and have five scene changes.
Third quarter: chapters 21 -24 occur on Saturday/Monday and have three scene changes.
Fourth quarter: chapters 24 – 28 have two scene changes.
Although I was not yet finished with the fourth quarter, I could see that the first half of my story is in California, while the second half will finish up in Japan. Seemed right.
Rough Draft: The Rewrite
Once I recovered from the editorial letter that did not laud my brilliance, I took a deep breath. And began the rewrite.
Here’s the story/scene time-line I ended up with:
The story did have good bones. The sequence of individual scenes did not change until the last few chapters.
The plot twist still comes at the 40,000-word mark. And my editor praised its timing and effectiveness.
The content of individual scenes did change. I front-loaded the ideas I had backed into while writing what amounted to the rough draft.
My editor pointed out that everything was there. Just in the wrong place. Or buried. I moved certain elements around and uncovered the buried ones by adding new chapters. You’ll see I pencilled in a new Ch 15. And then made more dramatic notations for a New Ch 21 and a New Ch 23. I’m no longer sure what New, New Ch 21 is.
The final draft is a much more integrated story.
Rough Draft: Moral of the Story
How did I feel when I first got my editorial feedback? Depressed.
How do I feel now? Elated.
Be grateful for tough feedback. Dig down. Honor your story. And it doesn’t hurt to start off with good bones.
See also: Yakuza Research for Wealth Whispers
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen