You thought I'll give you an answer? Fooled you! I wish. I'm searching for an answer myself. But I thought I'd write out what is happening with The Badlings and maybe I'll glimpse some truths from it. Or maybe entertain you. Or both. Or neither. Anyway. I have noticed a change pattern that occurs from draft to draft, and I'm curious how this pattern develops over the years of writing experience. The Badlings is only my fourth novel, counting Siren Suicides as one, so I'm sure that after 20 of these babies I will have a completely different opinion. For now, though...
THE PROCESS OF CHANGE.
1. FIRST DRAFT IS A MESS.
This is known by anyone, even by beginning writers. Every first draft is a convoluted tangled scramble of nonsensical plots and ideas and story beginnings and ends all tied up together and vomited onto paper. And that is okay. The purpose of this draft is to get the story out, all of it, with some kind of a logical start and some kind of a logical end, even if it doesn't make much sense.
And that is what I do, I gather and scrape and puke out a jumble of words with embryonic characters (I hardly know who they are or what they want) and an underdeveloped and crazy plot (the type you see in dreams and wonder what the hell it means). The primary thing here is to feel it all. If I don't feel it, I don't write it. So I feel a lot and think very little. And at some point somehow arrive at about 80K words or so. Then I set it aside for a couple weeks.
2. SECOND DRAFT IS AN IMMATURE STORY.
Here the very first sprouts of what exactly it is I want to say emerge into light. I kinda sorta get it, and kinda sorta still search for it. But I have noticed this: the characters are very childish, the dialogue is primitive—at the level of elementary school or worse, and the descriptions are way too many (mostly fillers when I don't know what to say).
I used to freak out here and think that I can't write for shit. Because it reads badly. Now I know it's okay and don't freak out as much.
Another thing. In the second draft I both trim crazy parts out and add more complexity to the ones that are left. For example, the world I create suddenly has tentacles and layers and feelers and pseudopods and an intelligence of its own. I also indulge in naming it names, and feeling proud of myself for naming it, and getting carried away into the particulars that are cool and interesting, but are not moving the story forward. So I cut it all out in the next draft (what a shame!). Meanwhile my characters develop and I know them better.
3. THIRDS DRAFT IS A GLOP OF EXPLANATIONS.
By this point I have figured out the plot—meaning, what characters I have and what each of them wants—but I'm now scared and unsure about the reader. I tend to forget here that I'm writing for myself and start explaining things, mostly also for myself, because I'm afraid I will forget them. Many of you (those of you who beta read the third draft of The Badlings) have pointed it out. And so I'm cutting out all those explanations in the fourth draft.
I do sense a pattern here. It has happened in other third drafts as well. And Rosehead could use a dose of scrubbing to shed about 20K words. I have been reading from it at RadCon and cringing, because I could see extra words that weren't needed. Oh well. But, back to the pattern. Here the dialogue remains childish and I tend to get carried away into little conflicts among characters that are filler.
4. FOURTH DRAFT IS A SIMPLIFIED UNPOLISHED PRODUCT.
Finally, at this stage I calm down. I scrape through the third draft and get rid of all the explanations, all the lines of dialogue that carry no use except some juvenile indulgence in bickering. I get rid of most exclamation marks. And there are a lot!!! Mostly, I know enough of the story to afford to slow down and think.
So I think a lot in the morning, before I sit down and write.
Also, this is the stage where everything gets simplified and streamlined. No more complicated layering of the worlds or ideas or sub-plots or sub-sub-plots or whatever. It makes me tingle with pleasure to do this. It sings. It hums. I can feel the story come alive. At this stage, after I'm done, it's usually ready for my editor.
5. FIFTH DRAFT—FUCKING STOP. NO STORY IS PERFECT.
I was tempted to do another draft of The Badlings. I mean, in the future. I have this idea that I will go on my Amtrak adventure, write the first draft of Tube, come back and write another draft of The Badlings. And I realize that I need to let it go. Now that I know more about writing, I have this tendency to try and apply everything I have learned to make it perfect.
Well, it will never be perfect. No story is perfect. The best stories are as imperfect as we are. If there is emotion in it, it's good enough. I will write the next book better, and the next after that one, and so on.
THIS IS IT.
This is my process so far. I can't wait to start on Tube and apply the lessons I have learned on The Badlings, the primary one being—a plot is a character's want. This simple rule that I haven't seen before. So, Olesya, the main character, wants a friend. And so does Tube, the train. There will be a bunch of other characters, but these two will be the primary ones. I'm shrinking it down to dive deeper into character development (as I tend to take on too much and bury myself under stress). It will be one wild ride, both physically and metaphorically speaking.