Redrafting. An absolutely vital part of writing a book. Without it, all you have is a first draft, which unless you are absolutely perfect and everything you touches turn to gold, will be full of things like bad writing, things that don’t make a lot of sense, inconsistent characters, and things which contradict things said just a few pages ago. And no-one is absolutely perfect.
Redrafting is an easy thing to half do. Well, less than half do, to be honest. It’s really easy to just go through a manuscript, change the wording of a few sentences, add a bit more description here and there, and delete a few of the most conspicuously stupid passages, and declare that a new draft. I suppose technically you could say it is. But the point of redrafting isn’t to make an almost identical copy of the first one.
The problem isn’t just laziness – that is a problem, if you are lazy about it – but I think you can be frightened of changing the book too much. I am, I have the idea of what my story to be and I don’t want to lose that. But changes can make the book so much better, and if you hold back you’ll never know how good it could have been.
When you’ve got time, if you haven’t read about this already, look up Roald Dahl first drafts. Seriously, it’s amazing how some of his books originally were, how much was changed from the first draft, and they became classics. Roald Dahl was incredibly talented, but he still put a lot of work into his books, he was willing to make big changes. That’s one reason why he was such a great author. Even the best writers can’t create classics just with one draft, and a few token changes to that one draft.
So when redrafting, sometimes there may be something that needs to be changed. Something major, even. The original direction of the story may not work, or the direction may be OK, but everything along the way is wrong. And that’s daunting. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. And if it doesn’t need to be done, if it turns out the change does ruin everything, well then it can always be changed back. There’s nothing saying that if it turns out you did get it right the first time, you can’t go back to that. But the more you experiment, the surer you can be that you have got it right by the end.
I’ve not always been the best at redrafting. Well, I’m probably still not the best, but I’ve certainly improved. It was actually an accident, a bad thing which turned out to have a benefit. Our computer broke down and me being rather stupid, I had not backed up my files. Everything was lost. I just had hard copies of the stories I had finished. I could no longer just skim through the document on the computer and change a few words here and there. I had to completely rewrite the stories if I wanted to carry on working on them.
One of them I am still working on. On and off. It’s one of those things I can’t stop coming back to. I wrote the first draft when I was fifteen, and the second draft was pretty much exactly the same. I’ve gone through it a number of times since, lost another draft because I need to be given a lesson twice before I learn, apparently. I have learnt now, I’ve got everything backed up. Recently I’ve come back to it once more, and have really gone at it.
The biggest change I’ve made is that right from the beginning, when I first started on it, the story was told in three parts. I have two main characters, they each got a part following them, up to the point where they met, and then the last part was the coninuation of the story. I liked that story model, it was how I wanted to tell it. But I really don’t think it worked. Maybe I’ll change my mind on that, but for now, it’s going in a more standard way, moving between the characters from the beginning. I was reluctant to make a big change like rearranging the story, but I did it, and I think it’s better now. And if it’s not, then I can go back, and I’ll know at least. But when I first wrote it, that’s one thing I wouldn’t have ever thought I would have changed. That’s not the only change I’ve made, some of my characters – including one of the main characters – have changed a lot, some parts which were pretty important to the plot have needed to be changed because they didn’t make a lot of sense, and that’s not easy. But it has to be done, because the alternative is leaving in the stuff which doesn’t really make sense.
So yes. Redrafting is hard, it can be scary, it can get frustrating if you can’t seem to get it right. But it needs to be done, just as much as writing out the story in the first place has to be done. Without it, a book simply won’t be up to standard. It may be OK, but it’s not going to be good enough to be published. It’s as simple as that. Don’t be afraid of changing things; you may feel the book will lose something but without redrafting you’ll never gain anything. At the end of the day, you’re trying to make your book the best it can be, and isn’t that what every aspiring writer wants?