Monday, October 10, 2011

How Much It Changed

SPOILER ALERT: This post will contain a lot of Divergent spoilers, so if you haven't read the book and want to keep yourself spoiler-free, close the blog.

The Twitterverse throws a lot of questions my way, and the most surprising one (surprising because of how often it's asked, not because of what it is) is: how much did Divergent change between the first draft and the published book?

This question is often asked by aspiring authors, and I never know quite what they want to hear. Do they want to hear that it didn't change at all, because that means their manuscript might not change that much? Will they think I don't deserve the book deal if they find out it changed a lot? Or do they want to hear that it changed a lot, because that means their manuscript might get snatched up by a publisher just because it has potential, regardless of whether it's perfect or not? The lesson in this is really: don't compare yourself to other people. Every manuscript and every writer is different. But just because it might interest you, I'll tell you about Divergent.

The First Draft

The rough draft of Divergent was about 56,000 words long. For those of you who don't speak word count, 56,000 words is a little less than 200 pages (at an average of 300 words per page, given the font size/spacing I usually use). It followed this outline:

-Tris takes her aptitude test and gets an inconclusive result
-Tris chooses Dauntless, Caleb chooses Abnegation
-(One-paragraph summary of the physical aspect of Dauntless training)
-Tris undergoes several simulations and bonds with Christina, Al, and Will, and somewhere in there, Tris gets attacked
-Tris and Four find out that Erudite's planning an attack
-The attack simulation happens, with Tris and Four immune
-Tris and Tobias storm Dauntless headquarters and shut down the simulation

So, essentially, the book was the same (with the big exception of Caleb), except smaller. Certain sections just didn't exist, including the first phase of Dauntless training, the Ferris wheel scene, Visiting Day, the visit to the fence, the visit to Caleb at Erudite headquarters, and the zipline scene. Certain characters also didn't exist, such as Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene.

The first draft, after some basic copy-edits, was pretty clean. I had received feedback from my critique partners as well as my agent on my previous manuscript that I applied to this one--such as removing things like "she reached out and picked up" and replacing it with "she picked up." (How did I not think of that myself? I still don't know. But thank goodness for critiquers.) Also, I used to work as a proofreader, so I had a pretty good knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules and I applied them as best I could. The only reason I mention this is that I believe (with no research to back it up) that it will help you a lot in your agent search if your manuscript is clean. If a manuscript has bad grammar and punctuation, it won't matter how brilliant the ideas or characters are, because agents won't be able to get through it. Just a side note.

The Second Draft

It's a bit of an oversimplification to say "the second draft," because the book actually went through several rounds of revision before I arrived at what I would call the second draft. One of them was with my current agent, after signing with her. Throughout this process, I added about 30,000 words, so the second draft was about 85,000 words long, or a little less than 300 pages in Word.

I didn't take anything out. My agent thought that what was there was good, but it was all so sparse that it wasn't living up to its potential. I needed to reveal more about Erudite, so I reconstructed Caleb, giving him Erudite leanings and having him choose Erudite instead of Abnegation. The side effect of this was that it added depth to the Prior family dynamic (yay!). I added Visiting Day (to flesh out the Divergent plotline better), the visit to the fence (for world-building/faction-building), and the entire first phase of Dauntless training (faction-building and atmosphere-building, as well as certain character arcs). I also changed the ending, because I'd never been happy with it.

The Last Draft

After the book deal, I went through a few rounds of revision with my editor. I added another 20,000 words, so the final draft clocks in at about 105,000 words, or 400 pages in Word. A lot of the changes were subtle-- I described more Chicago landmarks, I changed some of the friendship dynamics slightly. Many of the bigger changes came from a single question: if Dauntless is so awful and brutal, why on earth would Tris stay in it? Isn't she brave enough to defect and be factionless, if the Dauntless environment is that bad?

That was where the ziplining scene and the ferris wheel scene came from, as well as all the interactions with Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene. I needed to show that just like every other faction, Dauntless was a mixture of good and bad, and had veered from its original intentions-- but its original intentions were still there, in certain members and activities.

Again, I didn't cut anything, really. There was a lot of tweaking-- a few details in a few places can go a long way! For me, looking at the final draft is like looking at a skeleton with a body built around it. I can still see the bones from the first draft, but now they are stronger because they have flesh surrounding them.

So, that was my Divergent editing journey!


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