Round 1 vs Round 2

December 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm (Writing) (, , , )

I mentioned a few times that my NaNo project was a rewrite, so I thought it might be interesting to do some first draft comparisons now that the numbers are all in.

I wrote the First Version in early 2008. It was my first time writing YA, and for a while it refused to settle into a voice. Somewhere in a folder I still have the paperclipped stash where the first two chapters were written in first person, then rewritten in third. Then I ignored both of them and started over in first. I don’t have the day by day breakdowns, partly because this was before I started doing that. Writing by hand meant that I didn’t really have a good grasp of word count, either per day or per chapter, and even though I typed up each chapter as I finished instead of waiting for the end, I didn’t really understand at that point how word count was supposed to translate.

(As proof, I offer you the word count of the novel I wrote for my college honors thesis: 215K+. I so wish I was joking)

But, I do have the chapter counts.

Prologue: 286 (yes, it had a prologue, and worse, it was one of those that drops you present tense into the middle of a high-octane moment, then takes you back however long for the beginning of the story)
Chapter 1: 7895 (waaaaay too long for a chapter, as I didn’t understand at that point)
Chapter 2: 7805
Chapter 3: 7758
Chapter 4: 7875
Chapter 5: 10665 (and no, I didn’t accidentally include an extra number in there, that’s really how long it was)
Chapter 6: 8161
Chapter 7: 5107
Chapter 8: 7173
Chapter 9: 6478
Chapter 10: 8161 (am I a nerd that it seriously amuses me how two chapters had the exact same word count?)
Chapter 11: 8076
Chapter 12: 5211
Chapter 13: 6840
Chapter 14: 4241
Epilogue: 296
Total word count: 102028

On its own, it’s not an egregious word count. A little overlong, but not terrible. I was in love with it, not so surprising, and given that I’ve never had much of a hand at self-editing, I started researching agents pretty much as soon as I went through looking for typos and inconsistencies. Still, I got a few bites off of it before I reluctantly retired it to query a stronger a project.

When I retired it, though, I had no intention of leavig it to die. I still believed, very passionately, in the story and the characters, and (strangely enough) in the setting. It just needed more of some things and less of others. It needed a tighter line, higher stakes, needed some sharper edges. I just wasn’t sure at that point how to achieve those things. So I set it aside, waiting for the pieces to come together.

It took a little over three years, but in mid-October or so, as I was neck deep in another project, suddenly something clicked. Or rather, about a dozen somethings. I couldn’t play with it until I was done with the other project, so that’s when I made the decision to do NaNo, even though I prefer to give three or four weeks between projects so my brain doesn’t fry.

Here are the counts for the Second Version (chapters are listed under the day they were finished, with total chapter word count)

1 November: 8429 words
Chapter 1: 5221
2 November: 2502
Chapter 2: 4527
3 November: 990
4 November: 7402
Chapter 3: 5465
Chapter 4: 5229
5 November: 2530
7 November: 3879
Chapter 5: 5486
8 November: 7610
Chapter 6: 5114
9 November: 1768
Chapter 7: 5189
10 November: 5066
Chapter 8: 5066 (yes, that was all I did that day)
11 November: 3292
15 November: 1839

Chapter 9: 4821
16 November: 2464
18 November: 6911

Chapter 10: 4321
Chapter 11: 5037
20 November: 9482
Chapter 12: 4707
Chapter 13: 5102
22 November: 7425
Chapter 14: 4751
29 November: 7498
Chapter 15: 5037
Chapter 16: 5154
6 December: 15279
Chapter 17: 5154
Chapter 18: 5180
Chapter 19: 4945
Total word count: 95571

No prologue, no epilogue, five more chapters, seven thousand fewer words.
Average chapter length Round 1: 7246 and spare letters, not counting prologue and epilogue
Average chapter length Round 2: 5030 and spare letters

Rewriting something is very, very different from writing something new. I had to decide what to keep, what to keep but change, and what to discard completely, and had to decide what that did to the story and to the characters. There are scenes that I miss SO BADLY because I loved them, some of them because they were sweet, some of them because they still have the ability to crack me up, but I had to evaluate everything on a simple question: does this do what I need it to do? For a lot of those scenes I loved, while they did wonderful things purely for character, the overall answer was no. They didn’t do enough for the story, so they had to go.

For me, doing this rewrite was a lot harder than putting down something wholly new. I knew the characters so well from three previous books that sometimes I forgot that my audience wouldn’t know them the way I did (something that will doubtless prove to be a trial when I go back to edit it in a few weeks). I wanted to stay true to the characters I’d fallen in love with, but more importantly, I wanted the characters to be true. Which actually made me fall in love with some of them even more.

And made me realize that I am merciless when it comes to putting my favorite characters through horrible things.

What doing this also taught me is that I have a process. It’s a weird process, based on writing only a couple of days a week but writing ALL DAY, but it’s mine. That process works for me, lets me get a LOT done, and going outside of that process, while a valuable experiment, is something I need to not do in the future if I want to spare myself fruitless frustration.

After I saved the completed file, I closed it out and haven’t looked at it. Starting this evening (maybe), I’ll be starting on edits for my October project, the file for which I haven’t opened since I finished it. I need time away from a draft before I can go back to it constructively, need the time to back away, to gain some distance so I can see more clearly what needs to be repaired, replaced, or removed. After I do the edits on that one, and take some time to mentally recover, then I’ll come back to my NaNo project with a wiser eye.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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2 Comments

  1. JusB said,

    This a great perspective piece. The last time I reviewed a first draft years after the fact, I wanted to cry at its immaturity. It’s so great that you managed to salvage yours. :-)

    • Dot Hutchison said,

      I think the important thing to remember when looking at really old projects (aside from stretching before you read, so cringing doesn’t strain anything), is to look for what can be salvaged. Rather than reading them with the view of “isn’t this great?”, look for what can be picked apart and remade into something better. When I read old projects, yes I cringe, but I can also look at them and see that the bare bones are good- the skeletons work. It’s all the meat and flesh that needs work. Having that skeleton, though, makes the whole thing much more promising, and much less dis-spiriting.

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