Friday, August 17, 2007

Now *That's* a Second Draft!

Other Writers, Other Methods:

Last week I mentioned Robert McKee's writing method, specifically, his practice of pitching the synopsis to friends and colleagues before he starts writing.

I've never seen anything like this before.

Check out this article on Raymond Chandler's writing process. This was a man who took my metaphor of first draft as 'rough sketch' to its farthest extreme: he read his first draft, picked the bits he liked and, get this, jettisoned the rest!

Mark Coggins even shows us sample paragraphs. Chandler underlined his most resonant phrases (or even single words). Those stayed in later drafts. All the rest of the language was subject to change. All. Of. It.

I've always approached my second drafts with an eye toward honing down the language, eliminating excess words, excess scenes, excess actions, trimming fat in every possible way. Chandler's method seems to turn the story from a draft into a sort of outline-slash-haiku/tone poem (draft 1.5?). From these bones he built the novel back up.

It's radical stuff. The very idea gave me a happy little shiver.

I've got a novel marinating right now (first draft written at full throttle, second as carefully honed as the finest razor's edge) that might be a good candidate for this method. Or, I'll end up tearing out a few dreds before deciding it's not for me!

For every artist, a method...


Anonymous said...

Wow. I don't think I could ever do that. I'd be ripping out a few sizable chunks of my hair, as well.

On occasion, I'll be struck by the mood cast by a word and will keep it even after axing its original paragraph. It then becomes the foundation for the new and improved sentence.

cs harris said...

Interesting look at a master's technique. I've noticed when some writers say, "I completely rewrote it," they really did, but I've known other writers to complain about doing a "massive rewrite" when I'd swear they changed maybe one word on a page.

Shauna Roberts said...

I believe the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jon Franklin sometimes uses an even more draconian method: setting the finished first draft aside and rewriting it from memory. I've never tried this myself. Apparently, the most important elements stick in your memory and the peripheral stuff falls by the wayside, so the second draft is tighter and more focused than the first.

Charles Gramlich said...

"For every artist, a method" is a good way to put it. Makes me wonder sometimes if the advice we give about writing to other writers is really helpful, or maybe it'll be harmful if their "method" is dramatically different from ours.

RK Sterling said...

I'm with Charles on this one. To each his own. :)

Of course, I could just be lazy, too. :)

I shudder at the idea of starting from scratch when it takes so darn long to finish the thing in the first place!

Lisa said...

What a radical approach, and I have to respect someone having the confidence to do it. It would be interesting to experiment with it. I think almost everyone has bits and pieces that started out in a book and probably could be excised or improved, but somehow they end up in the finished product anyway. This approach would certainly eliminate that problem!

Anonymous said...

Steve, I wanted to tell you I went through my novel and banished all the 'thens.' It wasn't as hard as I thought, probably because they were as useless as you said they were. Thanks.

Sidney said...

Thanks for the Chandler link. I'm a major Marolwe fan.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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