From First Draft To Final

Michael Wisehart

4 July 2016

In my last post I talked about the Importance Of Beta Readers in my writing process. In this post I am going to discuss the changes that took place in my manuscript as I went through each round of Beta Testing.

“First Draft”

I started writing the first draft of The White Tower in April of 2014. I finished in August of that same year. The first draft of my script had a word count of about 170K.

Most of my first round beta readers were fantasy fans and authors I had connected with either on twitter or from a writing workshop called Novel Boot Camp, which happens to be in its third year. Its creator, novel editor Ellen Brock, has done a fantastic job of teaching new authors how to write, as well as giving them a place to interact. I joined Novel Boot Camp in its first year back in 2014 and garnered some friendships that are still ongoing today. I highly recommend making strong connections when first starting out.

My fantasy series isn’t your normal follow-the-hero-on-their-journey story. It doesn’t have one main character that we tag along with as they face and overcome their challenges. My book has multiple story lines that interconnect with each other as the series unfolds. In my first draft I had managed to put together a couple of those story lines, making sure to keep within the overall arc of what was suppose to get accomplished within the first book.

The feedback from my beta readers was positive. They said that they could definitely see the makings of a good story, but they felt that there needed to be more. They really enjoyed the prose and my voice as an author, but they felt there were places where the story seemed to drag. They loved the characters and wanted to see them developed even further. Overall I was really excited by the response. However, I could see I was going to need to delve a whole lot deeper in order to flush out a more in-depth piece of work.

I was up too the challenge …


“Second Draft”

I started working on the second draft in December of 2014 and finished in March of 2015. The second draft of my script went from 170K words to 270K words, which to put into common vernacular is over 900 pages in a word document with double spacing and 12pt font.

My story exploded.

It opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It introduced new and exciting characters which most of my readers have fallen in love with, including: Ferrin and Rae,  Kira and Po, and a whole lot more. Those readers in the first round who received the first draft never got to see the inner workings of The White Tower, never got to walk its halls. They never got to visit the Warren Underground or meet its fiery chieftain Kira. They never got to see the Wielder Council in battle against the Bulradoer, nor watch Valtor as he shaped his hideous Shak’tor. They also missed reading about Nyalis as he took on three Bulradoer, two sniffers and a pack of corax in the opening two chapters. BUT, then again, no one would have seen these things without those first round beta readers. Those in the first round have the greatest impact on story. My second draft opened the scope of the world building to a whole new level.

My second round beta readers worked on the script from April of 2015 all the way to August of that same year. During that time I began work on Book #2 “Plague Of Shadows.”

The second round readers were even more positive. They were excited about the overall story and world building. They felt like they were actually there and could see the locations and action. Everyone had a favorite character they enjoyed reading about, and wanted me to add even more character development, including backstory. Their overall concern, though, was pretty unanimous, and that was that their were a number of places where the writing seemed to slow. There were scenes I had written that they felt could be cut and no one would be the wiser.

I had made the newbie mistake of adding way too much detail into some of my early character’s everyday lives that, even though well written, just didn’t drive the story forward at a good pace. I was told that they loved the writing but felt like it needed to be trimmed down.

I took their suggestions to heart and sat down to start the difficult process of working towards that third draft …

“Third Draft”

My work on the third draft began in August of 2015, and I continued cutting and re-writing until the end of November 2015.

Having taking my second round betas seriously, I spent weeks purging everything I thought could be trimmed out and not effect the overall story line. I ended up cutting over 120K words. To put that in perspective, that is the upper range word count for a fantasy novel that most traditional publishers are looking for in a first time author.

For those betas in the third round of editing they missed out on seeing a lot of the behind the scenes chapters. There were many that ended up getting cut, and mainly from only one single story line: “Ty’s”. This was because his story was the first I had written and thereby the one I made the most mistakes with. It was really hard to be willing to cut so much. It was similar to sitting down, writing an entire book, and then throwing it in the trash.

Many of the chapters I hated losing because it would either contain a unique location, new and intriguing characters, or dramatic interaction between some of the main characters. I cut a six chapter scene in which Ty’s family took the Overlord and his family on a four day hunt. I absolutely loved the Overlord’s three story hunting lodge, and the interaction and development of Ty and Lyessa’s relationship during that experience was fun. In the course of their adventure Ty ends up saving her life and they have a first kiss … but it all got scrubbed in order to tighten the script.

*Takes a deep breath and sighs*

There are a few of the more interesting characters in Easthaven who were cut as well but I plan on bringing back into the story at some point down the line. I also ended up cutting the entire ending to the story. For those in the first and second rounds, what you thought happens has changed. Those in the first round also missed out on an entire battle between the wielder council and the White Tower’s Bulradoer.

So, to sum it up, a manuscript can be reshaped in drastic ways as an author lets his beta readers dig their way through it. Many of my readers mentioned how much they appreciated that I actually listened to their suggestions, most of which ended up in the final draft.

In October of 2015 I discovered a great author community called Amazon WriteOn. It is a site set up for authors to post their WIP (works in progress) in order for readers and other authors to critique. It was a Godsend.

I opened up my third round of beta testing in November of 2015 and left the doors open for anyone and everyone who wanted to come on board. I didn’t end up shutting those doors until May of 2016, during which time my Beta Team grew by 700%.

“Final Draft”

After winding up the third and finally round of Beta Testing in May of 2016, the last of their feedback finally trickled in by June.

While the third round of betas were working through the third draft from November 2015 to May 2016, I not only kept up with a constant flow of rewrites on “The White Tower,” but I also finished the second book “Plague of Shadows,” and wrote the first book “Title To Be Determined” in a new offshoot series called “Street Rats of Aramoor.”

After finishing the last of my rewrites I had my final draft ready and off to the editor on July 27.

It has been an incredible start to this journey. I pray that it continues for many, many years to come.