Friday, January 16, 2009

An Engineering Approach

I'm using a different approach to creating the second draft than I've used before. You may recall that the first draft is where I say we just have to get something down on paper and the second draft is where we work with large chunks of the story. In the past, I have created the outline, written the first draft and then didn't mess with the outline so much in subsequent drafts. This time, I deleted everything in the outline except for the title, and the things that remain the same for every story. Starting with a blank outline template, I am rebuilding the outline as I develop the second draft. This is a little like an engineer filling out a traceability matrix. There won't be anything in the story that isn't in the outline and nothing in the outline will be left out of the story.

What do I hope to accomplish with this approach? For all practical purposes, the outline is the story. The rest of it, the description, the dialog, etc., is just icing on the cake. If someone asked what the story is about, all I have to do is tell them what is in the outline. I don't have to summarize the story, I simply tell them the story in a much shorter form. But more importantly than that, if the the outline matches the written story, I don't have to read the whole manuscript to see if it works. If the story works in the outline form, it will work in the full length version as well. If it fails in the outline form, it won't be helped by putting it in full length form.

The first draft contains some things that the original outline couldn't anticipate. Bringing the outline up to date for the second draft gives me the opportunity to revisit the overarching plot with the benefit of a few weeks of thinking about the story and the characters behind me. The result, I hope, will be an improvement on the story.