View Full Version : Add or Subtract

08-13-2006, 07:24 AM
I've seen two distinctly different approaches to writing and editing a first draft of a novel discussed in various threads.

There's the "write a bare bones first draft and flesh it out later with new subplots or new characters if you need more words" approach, and the "put everything you can think of in the first draft and cut out the fat if you have too many words" approach.

Personally, I am definitely the latter. The first draft of my WIP will be enormous. I'm guessing 150,000 words; so I already know I'm going to have to cut and then cut.

To me this seems to be the easier technique, but I suspect that's because this is what comes naturally to me. It seems like it would be very difficult to add new characters, subplots and scenes; but then I think about how difficult it is going to be to cut so many words and scenes and conversations that I labored so intently to create. I can't imagine doing that, either.

So, how about you all. What do you do?

08-13-2006, 03:46 PM
I've done it both ways, although my preference is to try to hit the nail on the head (which I almost did once). I think it's easier to be able to go back and cut things that maybe aren't as relevant to the story than it is to try to go back and flesh things out by adding more characters and intrigue. I just recently finished a bare bones novel - I did it in shortened form so I could get all the critical actual data in place in the story. Now I'm finding it's hard as heck to go back and flesh it out to be an acceptable length. I added to it once. It now reads well and is complete. I just can't see adding a lot of fluff to try to bring it up to 90K words. So my vote is to try to avoid coming in too short. Puma

08-13-2006, 06:23 PM
I agree that cutting is easier. But I can't work that way. I start with a bare-bones draft and add what's missing later.

For me, the second draft is NOT a matter of adding "new characters, subplots and scenes." Instead, I'm layering in information that I didn't realize was necessary, or couldn't figure out in the first draft, while also getting the basic plot onto the page. I'm really bad at description, so I leave that for a second draft. Right there, I'm adding a huge chunk of words. Plus, in a lot of scenes, I like to have the characters' physical actions telling its own story, separate from (and sometimes contradictory to) the characters' dialogue. (As a bad example, the characters could be talking about how relaxed they are, when their physical actions show that they're tense.) So, in the first draft, I'll have the dialogue for the scene, and in the second draft, I'll layer in the complementing or contradicting stage directions. And that's another huge chunk of words.

I do occasionally add new scenes in the second draft. After the first draft, I do a spreadsheet (yeah, I'm a tad more left-brained than the typical writer) of the scenes in the book, which gives me an overview of how the POVs break down (does one POV hog the attention, or are the POVs spread out evenly), and conflict and turning points and motifs (which I may have added at the end of the first draft and then need to work into the earlier part of the book). In the course of doing this, I often realize I need an extra scene somewhere to set up the ending properly, and I'll add that, for another couple thousand words.

But, really, it all depends on your process, and I'm not sure that this "over-write vs. under-write" thing is susceptible of trying out both ways. I think you're naturally one way or another, and it may evolve with experience, but you'll always tend to go in one direction or the other.


08-13-2006, 06:54 PM
A combination of both. With some parts of my book, I just gloss over with the intention of filling in the details later -- just want to get the story out. With other parts, I wrote in minute details, thinking that I would trim. The way I look at it, there is no right or wrong way -- whatever works for you. It's all a process. It doesn't stop until the book goes to print!