I was thinking about posting the current TOC, but chapter titles are still subject to revision, and also, some of them might be slightly spoilery.
So, I haven't done a wordle in a while. This wordle has not been filtered (except for the usual list of common function words), and is based on the 251,802-word 2nd draft. (Click for larger version.)
So what got cut?
There are, it is said, two kinds of writers when it comes to revising: "takers" and "adders." Takers end up taking words out of their first draft, adders end up adding more. I am definitely a taker; whenever I revise my writing, I end up cutting words, sentences, paragraphs. Of course sometimes I do end up needing to insert new material, but in general, my first first drafts are long and wordy and have excess material that needs to be cut. My final drafts are always shorter.
When I announced that I had finished my first draft, it was 276,000 words and 46 chapters.
As of today, AQATSA stands at 251,802 words and 40 chapters. That means my semifinal draft shrank about 8% from its original word count. This isn't unusual among writers. I understand that 10% to 15% is typical, and it's not uncommon to cut even more when a writer is told to get a manuscript under a publisher-mandated word limit. If I were trying to get below a threshold for publication, I probably could trim AQATSA more aggressively, but there is a point where you say, "Hey, it's fan fiction, I can do what I want."
Most shrinkage comes from simple revision. You'd be amazed how many words you can cut just by going over your text again and tightening up the prose. Me and my betas both find words and sentences that just plain don't need to be there, and bang! Every single chapter winds up shorter than it was to start with.
Sometimes there are larger sections that get cut in their entirety. It may be a scene that I don't like, or one that I realize just doesn't really add anything to the story. A lot of these I cut before I even sent the chapters to my betas. Sometimes my betas question whether a particular scene serves any purpose, and recommend its deletion. Since I am not trying to get below a publication threshold, I use my judgment in these recommendations, and I'd estimate that about 2/3 of the time, I have cut what my betas recommended cutting, and the other 1/3 were small scenes that I agreed were not absolutely necessary to the plot, but I liked them and decided to keep them.
One thing happened in this book that has not happened in my previous ones: I cut a whole chapter in its entirety. It was during my "second pass" before I sent it to my betas (see below). I read the chapter and realized I was dissatisfied with it, but moreover, I realized that, aside from a plot development that I wasn't even sure I wanted to include at this point, it did almost nothing to move the story forward. So I read the preceding and following chapters, and realized that, with a few minor edits, I could do so without even noticing the missing chapter.
So, I skipped that chapter, sent the next chapter to my betas, and asked them to tell me if anything seemed missing or disjointed.
They both said they couldn't tell that anything had been cut. >..>
Kind of embarrassing, actually, when you realize that you wrote over 5000 words that has no reason for existing. But, choppity-chop, and that accounts for about 5000 of those 24,000 words that got cut.
How many drafts?
My betas have now read the entire first/second (see below) draft. We haven't yet gotten into the serious business of revising meta-plot holes, and they are both still processing the ending, but so far at least I have not heard "This sucks." :)
I was asked on FB how many drafts it takes me to "finish." That kind of depends on what you call a "draft," but I'll outline the process as follows:
1st draft: Whatever I have written when I type "End Year Four."
2nd draft: I start sending chapters to my betas. I reread and revise every chapter before I send it, so this is my "second pass."
3rd draft: My betas send chapters back with comments, and I revise accordingly. Since they don't always read at the same pace, usually I revise a chapter in response to one beta's critique, then send that chapter to the second beta, who critiques it and then I revise it again. So you might say each chapter is really getting two more passes at this point.
Now, so far, most of the revising is at a fairly low level: my betas comment on everything from typos to awkward descriptions to plot holes, but while we are going through chapters one at a time, we're not taking a top-down approach because they haven't read the rest of it yet.
This is actually an approach that many writing/betaing circles debate. Some writers say that chapter-level critiques are of limited usefulness when revising a novel, because often a beta can't comment meaningfully on whether a particular scene or plot development is appropriate without knowing what happens later. This is true to an extent (sometimes my betas tell me "I don't quite understand what the point of this is, but maybe it will make sense later") but it's also a little much to expect someone to go through a quarter million words of prose all at once. That said, next time I may enlist a third beta whose job is to read the whole thing all at once and give me an overall critique without trying to do line edits or nitpicking individual scenes. (I use "nitpicking" positively here- I want my betas to nitpick!)
miles2go used to do that sort of top-down critique, but unfortunately I have lost touch with him. :(
Anyway, this is the point where I am at now with AQATSA.
4th draft: At this point, I have taken notes on issues my betas have brought up while reading the first (second/third) draft which need to be addressed, ranging from events that don't make sense to things they didn't like to scenes that don't seem sufficiently developed. Next, I will ask them to give me an overall assessment: what needs to be fixed? What do you think of the story and what it says about what will happen next?
Based on this discussion and my notes, I will do some more revising, not going through every chapter individually, but fixing the meta-issues. Some individual scenes or chapters I may send back for a second round of betaing, depending on how much rewriting has occurred.
Semifinal draft: At this point, in theory, it's ready for "publication." As you know, I post chapters one at a time. And no, don't bother asking me to post the whole story all at once or send you the complete document before all the chapters are publicly posted. The reason I won't do this is because I reread and revise every chapter one more time immediately before I post it. At this point, the changes are (hopefully!) minor, but I always catch another typo or some bits and pieces that could still be improved.
So, depending on how you count them, the entire manuscript goes through five or six "drafts" before you read it.
I expect to start posting before the end of the year. And yes, I'm going to stick to my twice-a-week schedule again. Indulge me here; I do like to attract new readers, and one thing that does bring in new readers is when a story appears regularly on update feeds over a period of weeks.
One of the biggest mistakes I made with Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle is that I posted it all at once. I had never written fan fiction before, and knew almost nothing about fan fiction sites. I spent about six months writing AQATTC, and when I was done, I uploaded all 29 chapters to fanfiction.net immediately, where it went almost unnoticed for quite a while. Ah well.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks!