I’ve recently finished the first draft of the next book in the Codename Omega series so this seemed like a good time to talk about drafts. No one’s first draft is going to be perfect. There may be minor issues where wording isn’t ideal, or major issues where the whole structure of the book needs to be reorganised. There could be sections that need to be cut to keep things from getting dull, or areas that need to be expanded with explanations because character motivations are unclear. You might need to add more descriptions or trim out superfluous adjectives.
How many issues and how big they are will vary enormously from writer to writer and from book to book, but it is always important as a writer to look at the first draft with a critical eye and decide what changes need to be made. In some cases, those changes might be sustantial. When I wrote Shadows of Tomorrow, I started with a character who I thought would be the protagonist of my story, and realised several chapters later that all the important plot events were happening to someone else. This meant I had to go back and rewrite the first six chapters of the book to focus on the character who was my real protagonist in order for the story to flow properly.
I also changed the gender of one of my characters because the book felt too masculine. This wasn’t as simple as just doing a find and replace on the character’s name – I had to go through extremely carefully and correct all the pronouns (I was still finding incorrect pronouns when the book came back from editing at the publisher). This change also involved making adjustments to scenes where the character interacted with others and the creation of a couple of completely new segments.
With Traitor in the Tower, I felt like there wasn’t enough of a climax at the end of the book, so I made substantial changes to the last few chapters. I went even further with Between Yesterdays, when I was advised by a reader to change a section of high action because I introduced a few new elements too near the end of the book, so I ended up throwing out a few chapters and writing replacements.
It’s not always so bad though. Omega Rising had no major changes between the first and second drafts.
For me, writing the first draft is all about getting the story out of my head and figuring out what the important elements are, who the characters are, and what needs to happen in the plot. The second draft is about fixing the big problems – sorting out the plot holes and the structural issues. The third draft is about making minor changes – clarifying things, making dull sections more gripping, removing unnecessary scenes. Three drafts is usually what I need to get the story ready to go out to the publisher.
If as a writer you spend more time on plans and outlines before you start the first draft, it may be that you will have less structural issues that need fixing. If so, you may be able to get away with two drafts. I would be confident in saying though that one will not be enough. Unless you are astonishingly lucky, talented, and careful, there will still be problems and weak parts of the book that need addressing.
I think one of the traps writers can fall into, especially when self-publishing, is to stop after one draft. They will write their first draft, give it a superficial edit and a bit of proof-reading, and then put it out their to meet the world. As a reader, I find it immensely sad when I’m reading a book that has great promise but that was released to the world too early. There are books out there that have great premises, interesting characters, and some beautiful writing – but they also have plot holes, confusing sections, and dull points. It’s sad to read books like that because they don’t quite live up to their potential. Do another draft of your books and don’t be scared to make big changes if those will make your book better.