When you’re bashing your head against the keyboard and hoping your first draft will come out okay, the last thing you may want to hear is a lecture about how editing is the most important part of the writing process. Writing, on its own, seems difficult enough.
But editing and rewrites are vital to the success of most stories, and if you rush these steps –– or skip them altogether –– you’re doing a disservice to your characters. I’ve written about this sort of thing before here and here, and now that the first Champions novella for 1944 is out, I feel obliged to repeat the message.
Fray wasn’t an easy book to crack, and though I won’t dive into all the details of the changes it required, I can offer some data about the scale of its rewrites. Using anti-plagiarism software, I’ve compared three of its drafts, and the results hopefully demonstrate that I practice what I preach.
Practice it a lot.
The first full draft of Fray came last July, in a file named ‘Fray Final Copy’. This base draft was then resurfaced (our term for an on-screen edit by the author) into ‘Fray Edit 1.00’ –– the version which was printed for our editing team.
According to the anti-plagiarism scan, more than 75% of the book’s content changed between these two files –– fully three quarters of the 37,000-word novella was rewritten in order to go from first draft to the start of the editing pipeline. Those changes were based on my judgment alone; when the editors got hold of the book, it rapidly became apparent that there was much more to do.
After ‘Edit 1.00’ went through the first battery of edits, and I began my own paper editing pass, it became clear that substantive revisions were necessary. The plot was well-organized and correct, but the characters and dialogue weren’t sharp enough, and much of the prose was needlessly complex. As such, last November I sat down for another resurfacing pass –– generally unheard of at such a late stage in our editing process –– resulting in ‘Fray Edit 1.75’.
This draft used the same chapter and scene organization as its predecessor –– all the same things happened to the same characters in the same places –– but a vast amount of the prose was rewritten. Indeed, according to the anti-plagiarism scan, only 7% of this draft matched ‘Edit 1.00’, and only 5% matched the original ‘Final Copy’.
Fortunately, ‘Edit 1.75’ addressed the problems; Fray flew through the editing process after its major reconstruction, and is now riding the tides through the Kindle top 100 alternative history lists in the US and the UK.
After more than three million words in print, you’d think I’d know how to write a story. I sort of do, but much more importantly, I’ve learned the true value of editing and rewriting. It’s neither exciting nor glamorous, but in order to send your characters into the world as well-positioned as they can possibly be, you need to put in the work.