How much to try to fix things in a first draft?

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
574
When you can tell something is obviously not right during a first draft, where exactly do you draw the line between "I have to go back and sort this out right now" and "Keep going, that's what the second draft is for"?
 
In the past I found that if I didn't fix something 'en route' I knew was there it tended to get much worse and play on my mind. So now I edit as I go and perform a major page one edit at each quarter stage of a novel (I'm in the middle on one now).

It means I just have the one draft (I save a copy before each edit in case it becomes clear later I've thrown a baby out with the bathwater) and the final edits tend to be much easier as I've addressed any major concerns. It also slows the writing process down considerably, which can be frustrating, but I'm always happy at the end.
 
I'm with the rest and think that any change that is going to have an impact on the way the rest of the story goes should definitely be made sooner rather than later.

Minor changes can usually wait. If you keep going back and changing every little tiny thing you can lose your momentum, and never finish the first draft at all. On the other hand, how long you can keep going after you are aware of things you want to change depends in part on how you work and on what works best for you. For instance, for me, if I leave too many minor errors unaddressed their cumulative weight begins to drag me down. If I go back to fix several of these at one pass, then it makes writing the rest of the story easier from that point on (though if minor errors continue to accumulate I might need to go back and do another quick pass just to fix those mistakes). But it's not like that for everyone.

You may need to experiment a bit to see what method works best for your writing process. You may need to experiment a bit before you even know what your writing process is.
 
When you can tell something is obviously not right during a first draft, where exactly do you draw the line between "I have to go back and sort this out right now" and "Keep going, that's what the second draft is for"?
In my first (and only) WIP I decided when the first draft was (sort of) done that a whole arc (about 40K words) was too much of a distraction and was better off re-cast as a sequel.

I didn't know it was "wrong" while I was writing it, it was just a gradual awareness that it was splitting the story and adding a lot of length to it. I don't actually know that it would have been bad to keep in, but having moved it out, I felt better.
 
I fix big things as I go - accidentally resurrected characters, reference to major plot events that I didn't write. It's like building a wall, making sure the foundations are good and it's vertical. Smaller stuff I leave alone until later. I'll even leave plot detail errors alone and just put a note in to fix later, particularly as it might not be clear at the time which version of the plot is the right one.

Realistically, it has to be a judgement call of how big the glitch is, how much it affects the story, how much it annoys you and how much you are prepared to slow down to do the fix. My first draft is getting the story down.
 
^Thanks for the food for thought!

I definitely do not want to get into correcting every little thing - that's how I end up not writing! The specific thing that prompted this was a pivotal scene which just did not work - I read it back thinking "The characters' behaviour does not ring true and they would not have come to the decisions I need them to based on what happened here." Still, on a purely plot-mechanical level I can continue to write past this point for a while. I'm now inclined to re-write the scene soon, but not immediately. It feels like I need to spend more time writing these characters to get a handle on how that scene should have played out.
 
The characters' behaviour does not ring true and they would not have come to the decisions I need them to based on what happened here.
Good job finding that. One of the few things that will make me stop reading/watching a story: when actions don't fit characters.

However, I find a story a bit like fitting a puzzle together. If you have an idea for a good plot, you just have to figure out the circumstances that will force the characters to take particular decisions. In a written story you can "time travel": go back and write in things that clean up motivations and flow.
 
Good job finding that. One of the few things that will make me stop reading/watching a story: when actions don't fit characters.

However, I find a story a bit like fitting a puzzle together. If you have an idea for a good plot, you just have to figure out the circumstances that will force the characters to take particular decisions. In a written story you can "time travel": go back and write in things that clean up motivations and flow.
Honestly, I don't think it is that hard to have a character choose against their normal preference, or have a character who's manner belies their competence. And it makes characters more interesting when they aren't the pacifist that spends the whole novel arguing for peace. All those decisions that go against type are what fascinates the reader.
 
When you can tell something is obviously not right during a first draft, where exactly do you draw the line between "I have to go back and sort this out right now" and "Keep going, that's what the second draft is for"?

Done this a few times. Usually i stop at the point where continuing would be unfixable.
 
All those decisions that go against type are what fascinates the reader.
It works best with proper foreshadowing. It works decently if this is an ironic twist but often reduces re-readability. It works badly if it looks convenient for the plot.
 
In the past I found that if I didn't fix something 'en route' I knew was there it tended to get much worse and play on my mind. So now I edit as I go and perform a major page one edit at each quarter stage of a novel (I'm in the middle on one now).

It means I just have the one draft (I save a copy before each edit in case it becomes clear later I've thrown a baby out with the bathwater) and the final edits tend to be much easier as I've addressed any major concerns. It also slows the writing process down considerably, which can be frustrating, but I'm always happy at the end.
Yep, exactly how I work too :)
"Discovery writing" (which may also be your preference) is a serial process. Each link in the story chain follows logically.
And there is a sort of timing instinct for when something needs to be happening

I have a feeling that somewhat ironically, most rewriters are planners. I guess that if you have a long plan then you are going to be tempted to write the "interesting" and exciting passages first, i.e. out of flow. Then you will constantly be hauling the texture and timing this way and that to try and join everything up seamlessly.
 
It works best with proper foreshadowing. It works decently if this is an ironic twist but often reduces re-readability. It works badly if it looks convenient for the plot.
I guess I was thinking about all the times the characters behave exactly as you have come to expect, and how wooden that reads.
 
I guess I was thinking about all the times the characters behave exactly as you have come to expect, and how wooden that reads.
Inclined to agree. Life so far has not done much foreshadowing for me.
It more often dumps the unexpected at your feet and dealing with it, often out of character, is where the character development comes in.
 
I guess I was thinking about all the times the characters behave exactly as you have come to expect, and how wooden that reads.
To me the most tense writing is where you know what the character will do because of a flaw in their character and you are hoping they won't do it, and when circumstance tests them, and they fail in the way you predicted, or if this isn't one of those gloomy novels, you know they can do it and they finally succeed in the way you hoped.
 
To me the most tense writing is where you know what the character will do because of a flaw in their character and you are hoping they won't do it, and when circumstance tests them, and they fail in the way you predicted, or if this isn't one of those gloomy novels, you know they can do it and they finally succeed in the way you hoped.
You sound big on Greek tragedies.

I'm not saying that there is a right or wrong way to do things. I'm saying that any rule about the connection rule between character and their actions is easily disproved, and best avoided. Some of your characters will be predictable, some chaotic, some will do something exceptional and others will take the long route to their destiny. Don't put only one type in your book.
 
I guess I was thinking about all the times the characters behave exactly as you have come to expect, and how wooden that reads.
If done woodenly, then yeah--but also, anything done poorly is pretty meh.

If the tension in the character is real and visceral? If we know they're going to do the thing we know they'll do but the struggle--the teacup rage and anger and resentment and recrimination--the struggle moves them 2.3% in a new direction? That's the delicious bit. Both because it's the struggle and also, if they moved 2.3% this time... what happens next time?

Struggle ==> Tension ==> Choice ==> Future Consequences = GIMME
 

Similar threads


Back
Top