Dealing With Multiple Drafts During Revisions

Sometimes a story goes through several drafts before you figure out the best way to tell it. Problem is, you often end up with multiple drafts, and there’s good writing in every one. Finding a way to piece together all the best parts and still make the story feel cohesive can be a challenge.

Here are some common trouble spots when dealing with multiple revisions, and some tips on how to handle them:

Your Darlings: Those Scenes You Love, but no Longer Work

In multiple drafts, it’s easy to have favorite moments you want to include, and you’ll probably work hard to get them to fit. But just because it’s a great scene doesn’t mean it’s great for the final draft. When I’m trying to fit a favorite bit into something I’m writing, the difficulty fitting it is a big red flag that it might not be the right scene for the book. Forcing a scene almost always ends with a big stumbling block for the reader as soon as they hit it. It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t quite make sense, it doesn’t really advance the story.

This doesn’t hold true for every tough bit to fit, and once in a while, I come up with a seriously cool way to make it work that I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. But I’ll be honest and say this is rare. If you find yourself beating your head against a scene, it might be time to file it away and save it for another story.

  • Does it advance the core conflict or character arc in some way?
  • Does it offer new and relevant information?

That Looks Right, But: Leftover Information That’s no Longer Relevant

Another common snag in piecing together drafts is what I like to call revision smudge. Those bits that get left behind that reference something no longer in the novel. For example, you changed which character was in the scene with your protagonist, you changed the location, the goal shifted slightly or the stakes altered. Reading these scenes feel “right,” but when you look closely, you realize that part of the story is no longer there. That reference was cut, or changed, or was even moved to a new location.

  • Are there any leftover names or details that don’t belong?
  • Is anything referenced that is no longer there, or has changed?
  • Does the protagonist still want the same thing?
  • Are the stakes the same?
  • Does the antagonist still want the same things? Has their plan changed?
  • Are there extra characters that aren’t anywhere else now?
  • Is the information revealed new, or has it been added elsewhere?

Didn’t They Say That?: Information States in Multiple Scenes

Description and backstory are two more spots that can cause trouble. A scene that introduced a character in chapter one might now be in chapter five, and readers already know who they are. Do a search for each character’s name (or a key detail of backstory) and see what information you reveal first, then every other time that name/detail is mentioned. This can be time consuming, but you’ll know exactly where you say what about a character, and I’ve caught many a repetition this way.

  • Does anything sound familiar as your read? Has it been said elsewhere?
  • When is background information revealed?
  • Do readers have what they need when a character is first introduced?
  • Will readers understand early scenes based on the details revealed in those scenes?

Dress Rehearsal: Revise Chronologically to Ensure Everything Tracks

Revising chronologically also helps see the story as it unfolds, since you can easily flip back and double check details. And just having read it, the actual text will be fresh in your mind. This can also be helpful to find places where too much is happening on a single day, or what starts out at night ends up finishing in the early afternoon. Make an easy-to-check list of things you changed that need to be edited overall.

  • When is the first time critical information is revealed or stated?
  • When do important plot events happen?
  • How much time do scenes and actions take?
  • Is the timetable working and plausible?

Piecing together multiple drafts can be tricky, but a little pre-planning can save you a lot of time and effort.

Have you ever pieced together several drafts? Or tried to combine two story ideas into one? What pitfalls did you stumble into?


14 Responses to Dealing With Multiple Drafts During Revisions

  1. Adam Silvera Aug 15 2014 at 11:39 am #

    I have to turn in my edits next Friday and this post is EXACTLY what I needed because I’m seeing a lot of things that don’t pack the punch they used to anymore because of scenes that were cut ten drafts ago. SO DAMN HELPFUL. Thanks, Janice!

    • Janice Hardy Aug 16 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Yay! Glad I could be of service 🙂 Good luck on those edits.

  2. Julie Aug 15 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    GREAT POST! Like Adam mentioned in his comment above, I have had to deal with events gaining or losing strength, characters who were killed off showing up in scenes later, people who met three scenes ago acting like strangers, etc. One issue I’m having with my current revision is a change in the backstory, so I need to look at all the attitudes of the characters and make sure they are consistent with this new “past.” THANK YOU Janice!

    • Janice Hardy Aug 16 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Most welcome! Ooo, backstory changes are indeed rough on the revisions. Send good writing vibes your way to help with that!

  3. Mike Aug 15 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Very helpful as I revise. But I don’t WANT to get rid of my favorite scenes!!!

    • Janice Hardy Aug 16 2014 at 9:11 am #

      Then don’t 🙂 You can also try just moving them to a file called “favorite scenes I want to somehow save.” That gets it out of the manuscript, but still safe, and you reevaluate it once the novel is back in shape and see if it can fit anywhere.

  4. Ellen Aug 15 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    I JUST figured out that I’m going to have to do this on WIP, so your post couldn’t possibly be better timed. Good ideas, all of them. I’ll definitely be book-marking this one for future reference!

    • Janice Hardy Aug 16 2014 at 9:11 am #

      Glad I could help 🙂 Hope the revisions goes well and you get it all knocked into shape.

  5. Heather C. Myers Aug 16 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Yes, my Dark Paradise Trilogy are 4 stories pieced together combined with original writing. What I’ve learned is you need to outline, you NEED to tweak, and you need to go through your old story to see what parts are most important to your new story. You also HAVE to read through the draft to make sure everything makes sense.

    This is the perfect checklist, Janice! Thank you so much!

    • Janice Hardy Aug 19 2014 at 7:58 am #

      Most welcome. I totally agree about outlining during revisions. It can be so incredibly helpful to keep things organized.

  6. Laura Medlock Aug 17 2014 at 6:09 am #

    Such a great checklist, thanks Janice! I have come across all of these problems in my latest revision and, for me, the best way of catching them all was a couple of stellar beta readers. You can’t beat a second pair of eyes!

    I also have a doc called Extra Bits for my dead darlings. Hopefully I can resuscitate them in another book…


    • Janice Hardy Aug 19 2014 at 7:59 am #

      Good betas are worth their weight in chocolate. Fresh eyes will catch what we miss every time. It’s always good to have a beta in reserve who knows nothing about the story, to. Love the “Extra Bits” title. So playful.

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