The Second Draft

The Second Draft

I am on the third draft of the short story, looking back on what I’ve done with the second.

Mostly, revising the second draft means ossifying plot and rewriting major sections. I have the ending figured out, I know my major changes, and I’ve cut out the elements which don’t make sense and added structure. I also bought an eight-color pen from Target to color code my outline.


When I rewrite outlines, I include what I’d like to leave in, add what I want to include, and think of how to link these elements with prose or dialog. But, this only works if I have an ending. Once I have one, it’s super easy to write a story, but sometimes I’ll just write a story without one and then everything sucks. I’ll grope toward a conclusion I haven’t figured out yet, which means more things to straighten when I edit, which slows down my writing, which gives me wrinkles. As a joke, my friend suggested I write endings first, but I was so taken with that idea I applied it to every new story. It’s really helped!

For the characters, I’m experimenting with value-driven characters as opposed to goal-driven ones. Most writers have been told to give goals to characters— everybody wants something. However, there are a lot of people who don’t exactly know what they want or they aren’t self-aware enough to know what they’re working for. They’re trying to find themselves, or maybe not. Value-driven characters give the internal consistency which goal-driven characters can lack. I need to better understand who the characters are and how they got to this point in their lives. In doing this, I can’t help but give them bits of myself, not autobiographically, but details about myself when I was at a similar point in my life. For example, there’s a point where Lena spills her heart on a private chat board to an anonymous stranger. I’ve done this too many times, because it’s often easier to tell a stranger who doesn’t know you and will never know you something deeply painful because it won’t hurt them as much when you unburden yourself. And it usually happens because the people who use chat boards heavily tend to not have so many close friends to whom they can speak intimately. And those last two sentences are realizations that I had when I was thinking about what kind of person suddenly talks about something personal to a stranger. The kind of person who does this is. . . fill in the blank.

And then I’ve got to think about what real-life events would trigger these realizations or emotional reactions. When people think of major plot points for genre fiction, it’s usually outside events such as a death, or a surprise, or a war, or something tangible even outside of the character/s control: an external event which affects the character/s internally. While this also happens in literary fiction, it’s also common to see plot points which are internal, such as a realization or an emotional reaction or a chain of thoughts. Literary fiction dramatizes the inner lives of characters and puts heavier emphasis on that internal aspect. It’s a back and forth— internal to external to internal, ping ponging between the heart and mind of the character and their world. What would evoke this, how would the character react. You’ve heard it before.

I’ve also read more annotated chess games. I’ve tried to pick ones which show off techniques that fall in like with the theme of the story, and for the moves I don’t understand, I’ve written down my questions to ask the power users. I don’t want to be overly factual or alienate readers with chess lingo, but I do want to ground the details in reality, and use that reality to reflect the internal state of the protagonist. I also like learning about chess.

With editing the language of the third draft, I’ll have to be a lot more granular about details. A lot of thinking with steepled fingers with my elbows on the table. Or pacing. Or staring at a simile, pissed as fuck, trying to figure out why it doesn’t work. Personally I like metaphors which involve vivid movement and parallel the emotions. Junot Diaz has a great one in The Wonder Life of Oscar Wao, where he’s describing how a character reacts to any hint of saltiness as homegirl coming down at you from the top rope.

See, this is why I’m glad I’m documenting something short. Imagine doing all this to a full-length novel. For the third draft of the story, I’m going to go up a magnification on my editing microscope and nitpick everything.


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