How many drafts does it take to write a book? More than one, for sure. So two? Three? Five? How many sweeps must one do?
When doing the books in the Paranormology Series, I settled on three as the magic number. The first got the skeleton and the sinews in place, the overall arc, the characters and story. On the second draft, I fill in some of the meaty bits, move things around if they are in the wrong spot, and with the third, I clean up the grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation and the like.
It’s a neat pattern to get into, and it worked well for most in the series – except Hampton Court Ghost, where I scrapped three quarters of the second draft because it was horrible. Sometimes, I guess, things just don’t work out.
With Iris of the Shadows, it is a similar situation. The original work, ‘Darkness from Below‘, was done way back in 2010 or so, maybe earlier, tapped out by stylus on a PDA. There were spelling mistakes galore, grammatical flubs and lots of holes in the plot. It was before I had ever published a book. I was not sure where to start, where to end, what it was supposed to look like, yet I knew I wanted it out and published.
More than this, the characters were derived from a pre-existing mythos, and so it was written more like a fan-work than a standalone book, and so I could never publish it. I was in a conundrum. Here was a labour of love that could never be realised. In frustration, I threw it in the too-hard basket and sulked for half a year before starting on Adaptation.
Over the course of the years, I picked at it, prodded it, half-heartedly changed some points then tossed it back into the basket again to be forgotten for another six months. It was nagging at me – there’s a story that wants to be told, but I hadn’t given it enough attention to tell it properly. Besides, I had the Paranormology Series to go through, and re-working Adaptation into a novel, not to mention Tedrick and his adventures. Like a meowing cat it harassed me until I gave in, and dragged the script out again, and committed to finishing it.
Finishing it? More like starting it all over again! I imported the manuscript into Nimble Writer and took stock. No, no and three times, no. There was a problem with the whole book, and the more I looked, the more evident it became. It needed more history, more character development, more meat. I remember the groan I gave out when I accepted my fate – it startled the cat and Wifey even asked if I’d hurt myself. Not hurt, no. Not yet.
And so the first draft began. In truth it was more like the eighth or ninth. Maybe ten, I have truly lost count. As I wrote, night after night, I watched the book swell into shape, inflate like a bouncy-castle. I ripped chunks out, bits that made no sense, bits that made me cringe. I stayed up in the wee hours to muscle through it, and muscle through it I did.
Then, back on track with the three-draft plan, I went back to the start again and swept through it, bit by bit, looking closer, picking on the fine details. Then I went and printed it out, got my red pen, and went over it once more. All up, that’s something like thirteen iterations over the course of ten years.
How many drafts does it take to write a book? As many as it needs, no less.