A look at the Misfit Rough Draft

Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote a post on her blog where she compared a rough draft version of one of her novels to the published version, mostly, I think, to illustrate to new writers just what we mean when we talk about editing and revisions. The post was so popular that she asked some other authors, including me, to do the same. After all, every author has a somewhat different process, and she thought it could be even more helpful to new writers to have some other perspectives.

In her original post, Maggie said, “I do a lot of my plotting and brainstorming in my head before I ever sit down to the computer, so, unlike some of my writer friends, you don’t see my thought process evolving on the paper as much as you might suspect.”

Er, yes… I’m one of those other writer friends. I do very little plotting and brainstorming in my head. For me, writing a rough draft is more like improvisation. At least some of that is likely due to my background as a musician and actor. My first drafts are a hot mess and I like them that way. They change a lot from first to final draft.

Just how much? I took the first few pages of the original rough draft of Chapter 1 of Misfit, and I market it up and commented on it. If you’d like to compare it to the final, you can see those same pages in the free sample on Amazon, iTunes or Barnes & Noble

One thing to keep in mind, this draft was written about five years ago, while my first novel, Struts & Frets was still out on submission. So in addition to everything else, there is a huge time gap here, and time has a way of allowing a writer to see their work a bit more objectively. So when I came back to it for revisions, I was fairly savage with it, even for me.

  1. The first and most obvious thing is that the title changed from “halfBREED” to “Misfit”. This happened with my first book as well, which was changed from “Grope For Luna” to “Struts & Frets”. Sales and marketing people weigh in on this, and it’s up to the author and editor to come up with something that everybody likes. In both cases, I was very happy with the change, but I’ve heard of some authors who weren’t.
  2. The next most obvious thing is that the opening is totally different. In the finished book, the scene written here in which Jael is lying in bed listening to a thunder storm takes place about halfway through Chapter 3. While writing this scene was a great way to allow me the author to begin exploring Jael and the tone of her story, squelching around in a moody storm sequence was a fairly uninteresting way for the reader to begin a book. Not that the real opening is full of explosions and mayhem or anything, but as quiet as it is, there is a lot of info packed into it about Jael, about her friendship with Britt, and her relationship with her father.
  3. Two words into the first paragraph, and there’s another big difference. Jael’s plot line was originally written in past tense. Eventually I changed it to present tense, partly to differentiate it from the past tense plot line of her parents, and partly to give it a bit more of an immediate noir feel, something that Seattle (where the book is set) has always had for me. This is a choice some readers have complained about. Some people just flat out don’t like present tense for whatever reason. Possibly just because they aren’t used to it. Other people don’t like the sudden switch from one tense to the other between a few of the chapters. It creates a slight cognitive dissonance that is entirely intentional, and I don’t regret my choice in the slightest.
  4. Er, yeah. While the scene this paragraph describes remained, once it was moved to Chapter 3, the tone was radically different, so I basically just tossed this whole thing and rewrote from scratch.
  1. Four paragraphs of getting ready for school? Really? While once again it was helpful for me to write it, as I was still getting to know Jael, it’s not something that would interest a reader very much. Plus, between showering, etc, there was a lot of up and down the steps. The most important thing here is to draw attention to her unruly hair, so I just swapped out three whole paragraphs for a quick check in the hallway mirror on her way to the kitchen for breakfast.
  2. An obvious “Show, don’t tell” moment. No need to tell a reader how she responds to priests and authority in a Catholic school setting when I’m about to show her actually responding to priests and authority in a Catholic school setting.
  1. In this original draft, Jael knew nothing of her parentage or what she was for the first several chapters. Probably the most important contribution my editor made to this book was to ask me, “What if Jael knew what she was from the beginning of the book?” Asking that question changed my thinking on a fundamental level. It changed everything about the way Jael viewed the world and her place in it. Instead of a victim of circumstances she didn’t understand, Jael was a brave girl with a terrible secret. Such a more interesting choice, in my opinion. I read these paragraphs now and I am sickened by the tone of it. Jael 2.0 would have kicked this Jael’s ass.
  2. I didn’t decide on what the school should be named until a later draft. St. Mary’s is where I attended Elementary school and has always occupied a soft spot in my heard, so I just used it as the placeholder until I could think of something more thematically appropriate to the story. I eventually settled on Our Lady of Mercy.
  3. This was starting to feel like it was “a day like any other day” blah. So I put a terse, forbidding note from her father on the table. Not only did it hint of the conflict to come, but it set the tone for her relationship with her father.
  4. More whiny victim, Why are we poor? and Why must we move all the time? stuff that became unnecessary in later drafts. Heavily rewritten.
  1. The fact that it took this long to get to some actual dialogue is totally not cool. Although despite the drastic changes to this first chapter, some sections of dialogue like this one made it through almost completely intact. Dialogue comes more easily to me, most likely because of my background in theater, and usually doesn’t need to be rewritten as heavily as the rest.
  2. I felt that this line was a bit too blatant. Especially in the later draft when she knows she’s a demon. She wouldn’t be that candid with him. Cut.
  1. This original introduction of Rob was fairly short because at the time I didn’t realize what a large role he would play in her story. In later drafts, this dialogue expanded a lot, including a lot more details about Jael’s past, how much Rob knew, with hints that there was a lot she was hiding.
  2. Originally, Rob’s nickname for Jael was “Twinkie” instead of “Betty”. This was actually changed much later during copy edits. Apparently the usage of “Twinkie” that I was familiar with, referring to a girl skater, was region specific to where I lived. Also, there was a more well known usage for the term “Twinkie” or “Twink”, but it referred to a specific stereotype for a gay man. My editor and I agreed that association might confuse some people, so I suggested “Betty”, a term which I’d also heard as a teen. The copyeditor agreed that was much more of a common usage when referring to skater girls.
  3. Jael is pretty unfriendly with Rob in this original dialogue. I knew it was because she had a huge crush on him and didn’t know how to handle that. But it just came off as snotty. Once I expanded the dialogue later, I was able to soften it up and make it a lot more friendly.
  4. It felt odd to bring in Ms. Speilman suddenly like that when she was clearly the presence of authority in the room and someone that both Rob and Jael would be keenly aware of. So I expanded this description and moved it to the top of the section when Jael first enters the class room. Plus, she actually a lot more important to the story that she first appears.