Eight months ago, I got the opportunity to write a screenplay and, at last, the second draft is complete. I call this the ‘Clothes Rack’ draft. This is where the story gets written in full for the first time, but it’s still only a general sense of how the final story will be – it’s like a wardrobe full of clothes, that can now be shifted around, added to and taken away, though the general shape will remain the same.
In case you’re interested, this is the full list of drafts I go through before handing the work over for publishing:
- The Butcher’s Block: Having got an idea of the plot and the main characters, it’s time to start writing. What is mostly happening in this first draft is getting down broad chunks of plot, slicing out subplots, forming characters and producing prime cuts of location and dialogue. By the time it’s written, there is a mound of bone and flesh, but the story is far from a living, breathing and complete creation.
- The Clothes Rack: The first draft is placed to one side and the whole thing starts again, with a full write through from start to finish. By the time it’s done, the structure of the rack (aka. the story) is in place, but the clothes (in this case, chapters/scenes/paragraphs etc.) are not fixed in place. They can be moved around, taken away, added in and adapted. This is usually the draft I send to beta readers for their valuable input.
- The Marble Block: Just as a sculptor chisels a statue from a rough block of marble (or other substance), so too, in the third draft, the story is chiselled into shape – the dialogue is tightened, description is crafted, characters are brought to life. This is the draft I send off to my editor.
- The Tower Block: Over the course of a few months, I watched a block of flats in London turn from an architectural eye into a mound of rubble, from a wasteland into a building site, and finally into a luxurious (and far too expensive) apartment block. This is what happens to the story in draft four. Following the editor’s suggestions, the entire structure is worked over, broken down and built up, with the aim of transforming it into something far more beautiful, complete and satisfying than it was before.
- The Stage Block: Books are essentially speech. Whether they are read aloud or silently, they are still communicated through voice – either physically or mentally. This being the case, I get up in front of a microphone (not actually on stage, but as good as) and read the text out loud in its entirety. This is the best to test if the story makes sense, flows, and generally feels right on my tongue. Anything that is clunky or needlessly repetitive or any one of a thousand other things that could be slightly off gets changed. I will usually record this for the audiobook at the same time, thus producing the Stage Block Draft, which you may also call the Final Draft, or Finished Product.
I restrict myself to these five drafts because my natural inclination is to keeping tweaking and polishing and generally messing around with the book rather than getting it out there. Certainly, there are always things I’d like to change when I look at the finished product, especially the more time passes and the more experience I get … but letting it go is all part of the process.
By the way, if you can think of a ‘block’ to replace ‘Clothes Rack’ for the second draft, please let me know. “Writer’s block” is not an option!