Think of drafting like a funnel. You’ll want to work on the biggest story elements first and make your way down to the smallest.
Write for yourself. Each time you start a new project, just write. Don’t worry about anything except getting your ideas on the page. Think an idea is crazy? So what! Just get it down. This is where you reveal your creativity and imagination.
Don’t worry about spelling, consistency, or whether things change from outer space to underground. Just write. This can be in any form: an outline, pantsing, synopsis, etc.
By the way, you’re never sharing this version of your story. Probably ever. Other people will feel obligated to tell you what they think and it may cloud your judgment and potentially cause your creativity to lock up.
If you wrote a synopsis or an outline, this is the step to fill in the details. Then go through it with fresh eyes. Make sure things are consistent (names are spelled the same, the setting/time period makes sense, etc.). The focus to is bring the threads together and make sure your characters are the way you want them.
Don’t worry about word choice, sentences, word count, chapters, etc. You’re just shaping your ideas into a story.
If you didn’t have one in mind during the rough stage, you’ll need to designate a genre. A controlling theme will be extremely helpful as well. Knowing one or the other (preferably both) will guide the remaining drafts.
Work heavily on the structure. Understand what the Five Requirements of Story are and apply them to your story. These requirements are meant to be in order. You’ll be adding scenes most likely.
Because I specialize in structure and genre, this is where I usually start coaching clients and I typically walk through the final few drafts with them. Keep in mind that not all editors will accept a manuscript at this stage.
If you don’t know your genre by now (and really, you should) you need to lock this in. There’s no turning back! If you have trouble figuring it out, check out the Story Grid website and search for their “secrets” of whatever genres you think it may be. Remember that too many choices can overwhelm you, so stick with two or three that you think it is and research them.
If you’re still having trouble, I provide a service that can help determine what it is.
Using the Story Grid “secrets,” or any other genre must-have articles, make sure your story meets all the essential scenes of your declared genre. You may be adding scenes here, as well. And don’t forget that sometimes your essential scenes will be the same scene as one of the five requirements! No need to add fluff.
Once you have all the essential scenes, tropes and conventions included, you’ll need to diligently go through your manuscript and eliminate scenes and sections that don’t move your story forward. With the exception of certain genres, if your word count is hovering around 100K, there is probably plenty that you can cut. Some word count expectations are changing, so make sure you’re current on what readers are looking for.
If you haven’t been working with a developmental editor or story/novel coach at this point, now’s the time.
The editor will guide you through the details that help increase the experience for your readers. Consistency, voice, style, character, showing, info-dumps, and so much more are studied with a magnifying glass.
When you get your manuscript back from your editor, you’ll make the necessary changes and will have a completed story.
This should be for line/copyediting. If possible, hire someone to help you with this. Strong, specific word choice can change the way a character (or setting, conflict, etc.) is perceived.
When you’re finished implementing changes, you’ll have a finished piece of work in five drafts!
Don’t worry if you’ve skipped around and haven’t done things in this order. This is what I’ve found works for me and my clients. If you need to, head back a draft or two, so what if it’s draft number seven or more? The fact that you’re moving forward and learning all you can is what matters and will make a difference in your writing life.
I have just one last thing to say. Don’t draft forever. There may never be a time that you feel the story is “perfect.” If you wait for that moment, you’ll never have the confidence to publish. Get it done to the best of your ability now, you’ll learn more along the way.
P.S. If you find this helpful, consider signing up for my newsletter (to the right). You’ll get exclusive tips I don’t share anywhere else and the printable Scene Value Shift to help you strengthen a flat scene.