Masterpiece Writing Secret: The Crapdraft
June 7, 2018
How to streamline your writing while still achieving perfection! I know there are a million articles on this, but I don't think any truly address the problems many writers continually face. A lot of the pitfalls from the arcs/final books I read from fellow writers could be avoided by spending more time in the early phases of their books. Yes, this means you're less likely to churn out multiple books a year. And to some authors, two/three/four good books is better than one "masterpiece." But if you are the type of author who doesn't mind being broke and spending way more time than your fellow authors on his/her novel, than may I present to you the:
"Broke-as-Fuck, Masterpiece Guide to Writing a Novel"
(I feel like first I have to same something dumb like: no, I'm not calling myself a master or my works masterpieces or blah blah blah, but there IS a difference in the detail/quality of work you can achieve using this methodology in your writing process versus a simplistic method. But remember, this takes more work and its not like there aren't great novels created using other methods. The discovery of this method, however, is why Kings or Pawns is receiving a Second Edition- you live and learn.)
This method I utilize is especially valuable to those balancing massive character development and world-building, as it most easily allows you to constantly weave in additional threads without causing drastic revisions. It is the current method I'm employing in Gods or Men, where all of the characters and threads from the previous two novels not only need to be maintained, but grown and expanded. Writers who are utilizing a more simplistic style of character/thread/world-building elements will still find this information useful, but the true value will be found in those who explore the true details and nuances of everything your world and characters do.
When I was working on Kings or Pawns, I went over my shit a LOT... and then went over it AGAIN. And this tends to happen as an author-- that madness for perfection. But by the end of that book, I realized I had gone and changed EVERYTHING from the beginning, no matter how much time I spent on it prior to that final edit.
In Heroes or Thieves I developed another method, which was far better but still not quite at the level I needed. It consisted of:
1) Write the chapter once
2) Edit the chapter once. And the important part: note things that "don't sit well or bother you." LISTEN TO YOUR GUT. If they can be fixed on a second and ONLY a second pass right now, fix them. If not, keep the note to the side (seriously, put a note in your document) and come back when the whole book is drafted.
(this method assumes you have outlined your whole book. If not, THAT is where you should still be-- remember, start at the smallest level and build)
My methods have changed AGAIN in Gods or Men (the third book of the series) and I now find this method vastly superior to any I've done before (primarily because it saves time and fixes "problems" (like consistency, secondary character development, plot holes, etc... so I don't get stuck):
And here are the juicy details!
1) Outline the book. This comes in the step of just write what happens from the beginning to the end. The goal of this is to get your "story" and "direction" straight. It also helps to identify possible problems, characters, and themes. It might look something like this: (I'm giving you examples from my current process, which you can read if you don't mind minor spoilers from the beginning of the third book):
Alvena chapter 1: Alvena is on trial when Vale comes in and says it was all his fault. Vale is punished in her place.
Alvena chapter 2: Vale on bedrest. Saebel comes and tells them that Darc's army has been spotted. Vale and Adonis are to go after him.
2) "detail Outline" the book. Now after you have outlined the entire book, go back and begin to add details. That is, imagine that chapter in great detail--how does it start out? What happens? How does it end? What relevant details are crucial to note? The importance of this step is insane. Rather than jumping from the outline straight to writing, I have found going back and doing a detailed outline has helped me better identify exactly what is happening in each chapter, feelings, themes, problems, etc... And it has saved me a LOT of time (especially with regards to getting stuck on chapters).
It might look like this:
Alvena chapter 1: Alvena is standing in the throne room before a whispering audience. Saebel and Ilsevel enter and sit on the throne in cold silence. She is feeling fear and anxiety and regret all mixed with an attempt at courage. Her trial takes place, led by Ilsevel and Saebel, and Saebel sentences her to die for her crimes as she honestly replies to each statement. Someone in the crowd calls out that he is a coward to kill a child. He takes the challenge and goes to deliver the punishment instead of his soldier-as he says a good king should have the willingness to do. As he is about to behead her, Vale suddenly enters. He says that it is all his fault. Ilsevel is thrilled to replace Alvena's death with his. Saebel hears him out. Alvena is pardoned and punishment is dealt to Vale. Alvena watches in confusion and horror as Vale is beaten to near death in her stead.
Alvena chapter 2: Vale is lying unconconscious in bed. Alvena is sitting beside him turning over Vale's act. Thought they were ordered to give him no food or water, she slips bread into his sleeping hand. Adonis enters and she starts. He sits down beside her and reminices about when he first met Vale and what a great person he is. Vale wakes up then, feels the bread and hurls it at Alvena yelling at her for her stupidity. Saebel comes in and tells Adonis that Darc's army has been spotted. Vale says he's coming with Adonis and that's that.
NOTE: Notice how, in both chapter examples, I went back and set up notions of atmosphere, tone, and feelings, not just pure actions.
3) After the whole outline has been "detailed", I now enter the "crap draft" phase. That is, I "write" the chatper by breaking up the detailed outline and expanding those pieces. Doing this through the whole book BEFORE I begin ACTUALLY writing helps further to identify problems that saves a LOAD of time later (but most importantly from this sentence: identifies problems!!). It basically eliminates "lingering" on a chapter.
It looks something like this (from the beginning of Alvena Chapter 1):
+ alvena stood in the throne room looking at the ceiling. She couldn’t bare to look at the crowd that had gathered. She knew why she was here and soon they would too. She tried to be brave, to focus on a hundred other things so that she might die before their eyes, noble and proud. But she could not stop the tears from flowing or the trembling in her limbs.
+ She was going to die. And no matter how great her deed or how solid her certainty in her actions could erase the fate that was coming or ease its inevitable pain.
+ She heard the great doors to the throne room open briefly to the outside to welcome in further gawkers. She sucked in a breath. Above their perfumes and fancy soaps, she could catch the surreal touch of a warm and fragrant spring.
+ She eyed the stain-glass windows lined against the ceiling, wish desperately for a final glimpse at the sky. But the windows were edged with dust and woven shut with cobwebs. They had not been open in months and they would not be opened for her sake.
+ The noise in teh crowd swelled and she imagined someone of some importance had just entered the room. She did not look. She was just one step closer to the inevitable. She did not even search for Adonis. She could not bare to look at him. How disappointed he must be in her. She had struck down his lover and it seemed to her a greater blow to his generosity and compassion than it ever could have been to Vale.
+ She fixated on the blue sapphire border running beneath the windows, Sel’ari’s phoenix surrounded by glistening pearls. Help me she begged, but she knew that there was no way out of this mess.
+ Why did you stab Vale? She chastised herself suddenly. There was probably a better way, but you were too rash to look! You could have pushed him over! Or lugged your book at his stupid face. But you had to stab him.
4) After the whole book has been "crapdrafted" it is extremely easy to go through it, move bullet points, add bullet points, delete bullet points, etc... MUCH easier than trying to work through a fluid chapter. I review the crapdraft next.
5) Now that the crapdraft has been reviewed and "fixed", I'm ready to write the book. I find at this point, it's a breeze. I just sail on through from beginning to end.
6) Now that the book has been officially drafted, I begin editing. I always take notes off to the side on matters I might need to add or address later.
7) I continue to edit. I go chapter by chapter, round by round. I only stay on a chapter that needs "revision" if that revision is absolutely NECESSARY to the rest of the book. Otherwise, if it is a problem chapter, it gest addressed each round of editing and when the rest are done, gets special attention at the end. I typically edit the book 3 times--five times myself, two times from my editor.
8) Then the book goes into two "final edits"--two from me, two from my editor.
9) Lastly, it goes to my editor for the final grammatical edit.
10) I'm done and drink wine for days.
This methodology I've been using here on the third book (and that I began a bit in book 2) has saved me SO much time. I know we as authors tend to get so excited we want to whip that story right onto the page--and for a lot of authors, that may work just fine. But if you are like me, nursing some grand epic bursting with details that need their own filing cabinet, it may be best to sloooooooow down--which will, in turn, speed you up.
I no longer get stuck on chapters because I'm building from block to block--small, to medium, to large, to huge, to gigantic. As opposed to previously trying to go from small (the outline) to large (a fully drafted chapter). I would get stuck on those chapters sometimes for days because I was like "wait, I have to add this" or "wait, the mood isn't right" or "damn it, I don't like the order of the events" or "actually, I think so and so should go do this instead" etc... But now all of these millions of little problems never even arise as each stage builds so perfectly from the last that problems are "addressed" before they even come into being. And, if you are working with the massive amount of details/character development/world-building that epic novels require, this method is even more vital.
I hope that this helps! <3 And if you are like "ugh, sounds like too much work," yet you are having problems with your current method, why not give it a shot? You might find its secretly waiting to be your new best friend.
That, or it wants to kill you.