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What to Do with a Franken-Draft

big manuscript [1]
photo by Frisno Boström

Please welcome today’s guest, Dianne K. Salerni [2], fifth-grade teacher and author of a magical “fast-paced and exciting” (Library Journal) story for 8-to-12-year-olds called The Eighth Day, a “promising start to a new trilogy” (Kirkus).

What’s the book about?

When newly orphaned Jax Aubrey awakes to a world without people the day after his thirteenth birthday, he thinks it’s the apocalypse. But then the next day is a regular old Thursday. Has Jax gone crazy? What’s going on?

Riley Pendare, Jax’s sort of clueless eighteen-year-old guardian, breaks the news: Jax just experienced the Eighth Day, an extra twenty-four-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people, like Jax and Riley, have the ability to live in all eight days. But others, like Evangeline, the teenage girl who’s been hiding in the house next door for years, exist only on this special day.

At first it’s awesome to have a secret day. But as Jax gets to know the very guarded Evangeline, he discovers that she is the sought-after key to an ancient spell rooted in Arthurian legend. And Riley—who forgets to pay bills and buy groceries!—is sworn to keep her safe from those who want to use her to eliminate the seven-day world and all who live there.

Jax tries to protect Evangeline, but with his new friend’s life on the line, as well as the threat of human destruction, he is faced with an impossible choice: trigger a real apocalypse or sacrifice Evangeline.

With a whole extra day to figure things out, it couldn’t be too hard . . . right?

You can learn more about Dianne and The Eighth Day on her website [2] and blog [3], and follow her on Facebook [4] and Twitter [5].

What to Do with a Franken-Draft

So, you’ve written a huge, rambling monster of a first draft—something so mangled and ridden with plot holes you aren’t sure it can be saved. I’ve certainly done it, and since I write “fat,” my monster usually has a ridiculous word count, too (like 100k for a middle grade novel). You might be tempted to grab a shovel, bash the thing over its head, and bury it.

Don’t. You can save Franken-draft.

The first thing I suggest is outlining your book. Yes, outline it after you’ve written it and even if you had an outline before you started writing the thing. You may have had a plan, but what did you actually put into the manuscript? A simple two-column table in a Word document works for me. I use the left-hand column to summarize the events in each chapter. The right-hand column is for recording changes I need to make.

To help guide my revision choices, I also use a separate color-coded outline to analyze the pacing and how various subplots are woven into the story. Again, I work chapter-by-chapter, boiling the events down to one or two sentences, summarizing the contents of each one. In this example, I assigned purple to the central mystery, blue to a secondary mystery, and yellow to the romantic subplot. The color-highlighting helps me see where the various plot elements appear and make sure that one doesn’t disappear for too long, or that the romance doesn’t overwhelm the main story line. I can now spot what needs to be cut and rearranged in my monster.

As for the actual revising, I prefer to make several successive passes through a manuscript rather than try to perfect the story in the second draft.  I find this makes it easier for me to kill my darlings. In my second time through the manuscript, I might say, “Noooo, I can’t let that go. I loooove it.” However, by the time I’m running through the manuscript on pass #5, I’m far less attached to those darlings and I can cut them with a “Meh. Not as cute as I thought.”

The Eighth Day [6]As for word slashing, put on your Grim Reaper robe, grab a scythe, and get ruthless. Most of the time, you can remove just, even, and very without changing the meaning of your sentence. People can stand and sit instead of stand up and sit down. They nod and wave. (No need to say which body part is getting nodded or waved. We know.) Avoid phrases with multiple prepositions. In the back of becomes behind, and on the top of can often be reduced to on. I have a bad habit of identifying characters by their first and last names when one or the other will do. I also use multiple adjectives when a single precise one would be more effective.

And that sentence or paragraph? You know the one I mean. The one you can’t get right no matter how many times you revise it. Try cutting it entirely and replacing it with nothing. If it was that hard to say, maybe it doesn’t need to be said.

By now, hopefully, Franken-draft has been civilized a little bit and is ready to bring out in society, or at least shared with beta readers.

Have you tackled a Franken-draft? What did you do to tame your beast? We’d love to hear about it in comments.