The Twelve Redrafts of Stewart Ferris

Draft 1: An approximation of the whole work

Write it quickly as it flows from you. Don’t worry about stuff – toss coins to decide it. Make notes about problems. Leave it for a few days.

Draft 2: A tightening of the structure

Fill the holes in the plot according to your notes. If you need to explain why someone is the way they are, write a scene to show their development. Weave in a subplot if you need to, but make it relevant to the resolution. Prune away side-tracks if they are not relevant, or make them relevant to the plot or subplot. Make sure the novel is an appropriate length (>40,000 words). A new subplot could be 5,000 to 10,000 words. Are there enough twists? Should there be more description. Should there be more dialogue? Do characters get there way too easily? Add more obstacles and drama to increase word count by making other characters oppose them.

Draft 3: Development of the characters

Keep accurate records of all the decisions taken about characters’ lives. Complete a character questionnaire (from http://dev.stewartferris.com/) so that you can refer back to it to know how they react to decisions. Make them believable, with flaws enough to make the reader care about them. Be able to recount their life story up until the time of the narrative. A character arc: put your hero up a tree, throws stones at him and then bring him down as a changed person having learned valuable lessons about life. The reader must root for them and then have a sense of satisfaction as they see the maturity they attain. Every character that appears more than once must have an arc. They must have wants and needs that, if they are fulfilled, make them happy, or if not, they learn that this kind of fulfilment is actually empty and other things matter more. If they fail, they will either be depressed, or will decide that the failure has brought about success on another level.

Draft 4: Improving the dialogue

Have the aim that if you deleted all the characters’ names, it would be obvious who was talking by means of vocabulary, accent, favourite phrases and manner of speaking, so that each has complete originality. Do not render accents phonetically. E.g. some have catchphrases; some cannot finish sentences; some are cynical in speech; some have formal tone with correct grammar and long words; some use the latest slang; some have an agenda that taints what they say.

Draft 5: Working on the language and imagery

Look for words that are repeated and replace them with synonyms (how much like cheating does that seem). Change basic phrases into some, more elegant way of using language. Find more interesting words, similes and metaphors than the ones you have been flogging like a dead horse hammering like a dying starter motor. Whenever you spot a cliché, change it to something more original. Read objectively to see if it sounds like mature writing, or a story written at school. Eliminate clumsy phrases and awkward paragraphs. Re-write lines that don’t make sense, revise non sequiturs, and deepen all those shallow descriptions. Revisit the places and people you have described and make sure that none of the senses (touch, smell, vision, hearing etc.) have been neglected.

Draft 6: Restructuring parts of the work

Consider if the story would benefit from changing the order in which events are described (either linear or ‘time jumping’). It may be an option to start with the second, more dramatic, chapter and either re-write or lose the first. It may be possible to start with the big conflict in the penultimate scene, and then jump back to relay the events leading up to this. Another option is to repeatedly use snippets of history to show how the current situation mirrors events faced in the past and demonstrate that lessons learnt then can help now. Think about scenes too – every section should start at the last minute and end as soon as possible, hence omitting anything superfluous or irrelevant to the story. Skip the goodbye at the end of the conversation.

Draft 7: Adding layers of conflict

Add as many layers of conflict as you can. No-one wants to read a story about a walk in the park; they want to hear that you fell in the pond and got soaked on the way to that big interview and that a dog chased you up a tree just after that and as the clock struck quarter to your interview, you were still … but you didn’t give up in your titanic struggle against all the odds.

Draft 8: Improving the crucial opening pages

Come up with an amazing first three pages to hook the reader in. Jazz up any dull description; recheck for clichés and weak language; do anything you can to make those first pages shine. The first sentence should electrify so spend days and days on this alone. Something should happen in the first page that symbolises the theme of the book. By the third page, something should happen that sets the rest of the story in motion and hence keeps the reader licking her finger to turn the pages. Make someone’s day with these three pages.

Draft 9: More work on the character development

Show that you have lived with these characters; each line of dialogue should show who is talking by reflecting their personality. Make sure it isn’t the writer’s voice, but the character’s that shines through. Check that character arcs are believable to the reader and tweak if necessary. Interconnect characters in surprising ways to add strands of meaning. Make one or more character turn out to be the opposite of what the reader expects and thus make them feel that anything could happen from now on.

Draft 10: Logic and consistency

Check that events happen and information is revealed in a logical order and that characters are consistent in terms of how they speak and act. Make sure that any re-writes do not create logical inconsistencies and rectify any forgotten consequences of these changes. Make sure characters have time to move from A to B; don’t describe sunshine in the night-time; and, of course, never wear sunglasses after dark.

Draft 11: Proofreading for mistakes

Fix any mistakes as you spot them. Look up any words you’re not sure about in a dictionary. Check for typing errors. Don’t just rely on your grammar and spell checkers – watch out for things like ‘their’ and ‘there’. Keep an eye out for repeated words; not just consecutively, but using the same descriptive word twice in the same paragraph, and replace these with synonyms.

Draft 12: Read the work aloud

Either read the work aloud yourself, or set software loose on the text so that you can sit back and listen to how it flows. Keep an ear out for missing words, repeated words and other anomalies. Another option is to read the story to someone, or even to get someone to read it to you. Take careful note of any comments and feedback. This should be the first time someone else should see your work. Digest the feedback and then make changes the next day, if you feel it is wise to do so.

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