Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chapter One Again--Letting Go of Old Drafts

I have four unfinished drafts of the same manuscript. Yes, four. And yes, writing my blog is an act of procrastination so that I don't have to face unfinished draft number five. However, I do have a legitimate reason for this procrastination. I want to explore this obsession I have with old drafts.

First, a short timeline of how I accumulated so many drafts for one manuscript.

In draft one, I created two terrific characters who stayed with me all day long and even kept me awake at night with their antics. But their staying power fell apart around chapter twelve when I realized that they were only reacting to the world around them.

My character is too strong to be a reactor, I thought. She needs to be the one driving the bus. So began draft two. In this draft, I created an intricate world behind the scenes, a large cast of fun supporting characters and one big logic mistake that stopped the plot cold. Two more drafts, and three years later, I decided I needed to learn to outline. Yes, I made the leap from a panster to a plotter. I bought the books. I did the research. I learned Guerrilla outlining, Snowflake outlining, alphanumeric outlining and decimal outlining. I outlined on index cards, in a journal and on a spreadsheet. I outlined in the shower, in the car, on a boat and on a train. I was the Martha Stewart of outlining. I could tell you how to outline your napkin art and your linen closet. And I finally created the perfect plot where my dynamic characters could drive the bus in the elaborate world I'd created.

Great. Now comes the time to actually write the story. Staring at a polished outline is like holding a wrapped present on your birthday. You know you want to delve inside, but the package is so pretty, you don't want to ruin it. But you can't write a story without making a bit of a mess.

I broke the ribbon on my outline.

The problems started almost immediately, when my character reminded me of something witty she said in draft one. I had to include that in the new story. So I tweaked the outline to accommodate her wit. Soon, settings were changed so that I could reuse that perfect piece of description from draft two. Then a character who had no purpose in the new plot snuck back in because he was too much fun to leave out. Soon I was rereading drafts one through four, thinking, hey, there's a lot of really good stuff in here, maybe I can just add this bit here and that bit there. . . 

Now, ten chapters into draft five--the draft with the perfect plot that was supposed to keep readers turning the pages--I have a hodgepodge of voices, mismatched scenes and missing plot points. Once again, I have hit a wall.

This is the point where a writer needs to make the hard decisions. Here are the choices I'm facing:

1. Do I continue with draft number five as it is, and hope that revisions will fix all the logic and voice inconsistencies? I do like to edit.
2. Do I ignore all those bits of great writing from the past and start fresh with the new plot?  Can I be confident that those bits of poetry prose will find their way into my new plot?
3. Do I go back to draft one, two, three or four and try to fix the plot?

These are the questions I'll be pondering for the next little while. Here are a couple for you: Have you ever abandoned a manuscript that just didn't work? How do you incorporate old drafts into new work? I'd love to hear from you and learn about your writing experiences.

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