Lately I’ve gotten some email asking about how a novel’s Draft Zero becomes a Draft One, and what the difference is between them. I can only speak for myself, of course; your processes may vary; offer void where prohibited, commentary sold by weight and not volume, etcetera.
Draft Zero: When the final period is typed and the whole story has been told, that’s my Draft Zero. It’s probably a mess. It probably has scenes it doesn’t need — maybe even whole chapters or characters it doesn’t need; and it is almost certainly chock full of continuity errors. The days and nights are unlikely to match up. There is almost certainly going to be at least one paragraph in which I make this face: (0_o) and wonder what the hell I was thinking.
So I comb through it, leaving notes in the margins. These notes ask questions like, “What time is it? I thought it was still morning, why is this scene taking place in the dark?” or “Does this character have any good reason to know this yet?” Often I also make suggestions to myself, like “Escalate the threat level here,” or “Remember that X dislikes Y,” or “Put down the crack pipe and slowly back away. This doesn’t make any sense.”
On my second comb-through, I start answering the notes and deleting them one by one. Sometimes I preemptively put commentary to my editor in the margins, marking things I think she might wonder about. For example, Boneshaker takes place in an alternate history version of 1879, so I made a few notes here and there with regards to how plausible some of the pop culture and/or technology might be.
When all the questions I could ask myself have been answered, and when all the reasonable tweaks and tightenings have been undertaken, and I can’t think of any other way to improve it … then it’s time to seek out the helpful brain of my editor.
I give her the result of my squinty-eyed combing, aka Draft One. It won’t be perfect by a long shot, but it’ll be more or less structurally sound — and I’ve spent so much time so very close to it, that I am no longer a good judge of what’s required to make it better. And rest assured, it will still have oodles of room for improvement. But once my editor gets her hands on it, she’ll give it a read-through and tell me how she feels; and then that manuscript is on its way.
Anyway, there you have it in brief. That’s how I do it.
Any other writers want to chime in on this one?