Okay, I want to bounce one of those “seems obvious in retrospect” things off you. Some of you may already understand this. For others this may be a bit of an “Ohhhh…” moment.
I’ve talked here a few times about drafts and different ways to approach them. One thing I tend to do in my first drafts—and maybe you do, too—is to skip over things. Maybe it’s a story beat I haven’t quite figured out or a plot point that needs some more research. I freely admit, every now and then it’s just that I know the next bit is going to be really fun to write so maybe I’ll just skip ahead a little bit. It’s 100% okay to write this way. It’s a first draft. Nobody’s going to see it.
But at some point I need to go back and fill in those blank spots. For me, it’s usually what I call my second draft. It’s my cleaning-up to make a complete manuscript pass. Some basic edits and tweaks. Weird notes to myself get answered (“WOULD this work like that???”). All the gaps get filled in.
There’s also another point stuff like this gets added in, and that’s during/after edits. I realize this chapter needs a little more description. This fight needs a few more beats. This conversation should be a lot longer. Hell, maybe I need a whole new chapter. All of this would honestly work so much better with a big flashback right here. Or maybe an interlude to see how Phoebe’s doing with that ancient translation.
That’s what just happened with GJD, the book I just finished a second round of editing on. I cut four whole chapters out of the book—pretty much a whole day of story I realized was ultimately just slowing the whole thing down. But I also realized there was stuff the story needed. So I wrote three all new chapters and worked them in.
Where am I going with this?
There’s a frequently-recurring joke in Hollywood– “we’ll fix it in post.” Sometimes used to lighten the mood, sometimes used… a little too seriously. The idea is that if we can’t make something work here on set, we’ll make it work in the editing room with a few careful cuts. Or maybe CGI. Or in reshoots. Or maybe… look, did we actually need that shot?
Now, the reason this is a joke is because most filmmakers (above and below the line) realize you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist. If I didn’t get the shot I needed on set, it’s not going to magically appear in the editing room. If I don’t have the shot, my options for fixing the shot are very limited.
And the same holds for writing. I can’t tweak and clean up a chapter if I haven’t written the chapter. I need to have it all there, on the page, for me to be able to work on it.
BUT… here’s the catch.
When I go back through during that second pass or maybe even later in the process, I need to be aware that I may be editing everything else, but I’m creating this. In the middle of my second or third draft chapter is this first draft page. Or maybe a whole first draft chapter in my fifth draft manuscript (like I was just dealing with). I can tell myself I just finished the fourth pass, but really some of this is first-pass material.
Y’see, Timmy, if I wait until the very last minute before scribbling out that transition or that action scene or explaining exactly how Phoebe figured out that ancient translation… there’s a chance these bits aren’t going to get all the attention everything else did.
And I want to be sure they still get the same amount of love and polish the rest of the manuscript did.
Like I said, might be obvious to some folks. Might be a lightbulb moment for others.
Next time, I’d like to talk about some of that stuff you were going to throw out