This is a picture of the new intersection by my house. It really looks fantastic. I know, it’s hard to get excited about a road intersection but you have to keep in mind that this busy section of road has been undergoing construction for about a year and it has disrupted all our lives. They expanded the lanes — completely resurfaced the entire stretch of road and then repainted all of it. It got me thinking how this is a good analogy of building a story. Originally this was a two lane road, with lots of pot holes and patches. Now it is a beautiful multilane road with smooth blacktop surfaces and fresh paint. It looks remarkably different and the traffic flow is substantially better.
Think of your first draft as that narrow, gravel and tar covered, pot-hole filled road. It has spots that have been patched repeatedly. Places where the road forked to a dead end. It’s ugly and the traffic flow is horrible. You built this first draft hastily to get all those ideas out there and try to build a plot that makes sense as you go along, even though maybe all of it doesn’t quite fit exactly right. You had some starts and stops. You had to backtrack … you had to restart the beginning a dozen times. Whatever method you used to get that first draft down, by either plotting an outline or just winging it from the word go, it’s an ugly baby.
On the revision you clean up all those dead ends and block them off like they were never there. You widen the road with enhanced tension and foreshadowing. You repave entire sections with new subplot and better dialogue. You overlay the entire thing with theme and proper structure. It takes a long time, and in the interim it can be like trying to cross a really bad section of road trying not to bottom out or smash the rims of your wheels from the pot holes.
But when it’s done though, it’s a thing of beauty! (Hopefully) It’s not an easy process and it is time consuming, but it is the process that we must all go through to have a final product that is worth putting out there for all to see. It might take you months or even years to work through all the problems in your story. You sent it out to alpha and beta readers and maybe even a professional editor. But now it shines! It’s ready to send to an agent or publisher or to properly format it for self-publishing.