Swoon Author Claire Kann: You've Heard of Killing Your Darlings... Now It's Time to Build a Body
In my last post, I hinted that writing is a choice for me. Storytelling is my passion and writing is the medium I’ve chosen. Honesty hour: I don’t have a natural talent for writing and composition. I had to research, study, and come up with a process that works for me.
Let’s Talk About: Writing… more specifically how I draft, edit, and revise.
Step #1: When in Doubt, Stream it Out
When I get a new idea, a stream of consciousness allows me to get that idea on paper. I write about what I think happens until I run out of steam. Usually, it looks a bit like this:
OKAY: Mermaids are real in this universe, and humans know about them. It’s illegal to keep capture/eat them, BUT some are kept illegally as exotic pets...
STORYTIME: So there’s a Girl, and she turns a Boy’s promposal down. He later curses her: At sunset, she becomes a mermaid until sunrise and has to spend that time in the ocean, or she dies. She has seven days to break the curse by making a romantic connection with someone and kiss them...
BUT WAIT: What if Boy has done this before? There was a girl who disappeared, and no one knew what happened to her...
NO OKAY WAIT: Boy and Best Friend are cousins and from a family of sea witches...
WAIT ONE MORE TIME: So the Love Potential #7 is an actual mermaid and thinks GIRL IS A REAL MERMAID TOO, RELEASED INTO THE WILD BY CRUEL HUMANS WHO KEPT HER IN CAPTIVITY and wants to help her adjust. Oh my oh my oh my, like, I don’t think I can resist writing a male mermaid…
Step #2: Skeleton Draft
The Skeleton Draft is the written bare bones of the story. It only follows the story beats with minimal extras.
Act I & II
Fight or Flight
(Surprise Challenge in Act II)
Surviving the Black
Point of No Return
I’m a sparse writer, so this draft is about 20-30k words for me. Third person is my preferred point of view, however, drafting the skeleton in first person gives me an idea of how my MC would narrate. I create a list of narration rules called Voice Filter that I apply later on.
Rambly with the imagery
Thinks she’s funny but in an “I laugh at my own jokes” kind of way
Step #3: Reading is Believing
This is the time to flesh out the story. As I read through the Skeleton Draft, I start to think about themes, characterization, tension, what’s lacking or needs to be changed, potential writing styles, chapter breaks, etc. I write myself a detailed edit letter, a one paragraph pitch, and come up with comps if possible.
After Stella turns down a half-sea witch’s promposal, he curses her with a landlocked mermaid spell—she has one week to find her Heart’s Song, or she can kiss her legs goodbye. Stella spends her days on two legs at school singing to entrance her classmates, but unfortunately, too many kisses later, she’s branded the school slut. Meanwhile, she spends her nights in the water with a tail, getting to know a local mermaid who doesn’t know she's cursed. He thinks Stella is a real mermaid and wants her to join their clan permanently. Stella’s not quite sure what will happen if she kisses another mermaid and may be smitten enough to find out—but is she willing to leave her family and friends (and the human that inspires her Heart Song) behind for a new life under the sea… EASY A meets THE LITTLE MERMAID.
Step #4: Muscle Draft
Hold on to your chests because I’m about to break your heart: this is where I open a blank word document and start over.
Writing is rewriting. Using the Skeleton Draft and my edit letter as a guide, I rewrite the entire draft word by word, sentence by sentence. Nothing is allowed to be copy and pasted over from the Skeleton Draft because I am now writing in third person, line editing, and applying the Voice Filter. This is also the draft where I apply formatting: Times New Roman, Twelve point font, double-spaced with chapter headings.
The completed Muscle Draft should be daringly close to the final word count, usually around 60-70k for me.
Just keep swimming. We're almost home.
Step #5: Skin Draft
As I read the Muscle Draft, I make a final revision letter to guide me through one more round. The notes are usually chapter based as I believe each chapter has to be functional in some way. Things I should be able to identify:
The most significant note of all tends to be “DOES THE MC HAVE AGENCY?” closely followed by “DOES EVERYTHING MAKE SENSE?” Then I make a copy of the document first, so I have the original muscle draft in case anything goes wrong, and begin to edit inside of the new document. Once the edits are complete, I print it out on hole-punched paper, slap that sucker in a binder, and read it aloud so I can hear my typos.
After the final final edits, the Skin Draft becomes my Final Manuscript.
WHEW. *taps out* That’s it for me. Historically speaking, this entire process has taken anywhere from one month to two years.
What about you? What’s your process?