Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reader question - numbering drafts

Walker writes in reacting to a reader comment about how they were working on their 7th Draft. He's curious about what it actually means to call something "Draft 7."

I write, as I assume most do, in Final Draft. Either my project is done, or it isn't. I couldn't tell you where one round of revisions end and the next begin and I don't save out separate drafts - at least not unless I make a major change like the deletion of an entire scene. Some days I'll sit down with the intention of working on specific things (make all action paragraphs four lines or less, remove the yes/no from the beginning of all dialogue) but I don't feel like writing on the computer lends itself very well to drafts.

Do you think there's any virtue in the practice of separate drafts, or is it a hold over from the paper world?

What do you do?

Have any stories where it's been helpful or harmful to have many drafts laying around?

My method - I count it as a separate draft each time I send it out for feedback - OR if I make a substantive change in the script. That makes it easy for me because if I'm working on my fifth draft and Scott comes back to me with a note that my female protagonist isn't working for him, I can go back to my notes from Bryce on draft 4 where he points out all the ways that that same character works for him.

A reaction like that means that either one of my two readers is wrong, or my changes from draft 4 to draft 5 affected things in a way I hadn't anticipated. (And this can happen. Beware the ripple effect when you add or remove scenes.)

But I absolutely find it useful to have various incarnations of the script saved either by draft number or date.

As for if it's helpful or harmful, well, I never like to advertise which number draft I'm working on when presenting it to outsiders. If I'm showing it to professionals, I never EVER say, "This is my first draft." Everyone's first draft sucks. Don't tell anyone you're trying to impress you're giving them a first draft - and in fact DON'T show anyone important your first draft.

First drafts are to get the idea on paper. Show them to your writer's group, show them to your friends to see how things are playing - but never give out a first draft and be shocked when your reader comes back with notes.

Conversely, I shudder a bit when someone asks me to read their 14th draft. Many great movies probably needed 20 or 30 revisions... but that's also often a result of other people in the process wielding their influence. With writers working on their own, I sometimes see them getting lost in their own story once they cross into a double-digit draft.

That's why when I send out a script to someone, I never put the draft number on there. At most, I'll put the draft date.

What are your thoughts on this everyone?


  1. Yes, major changes and sending for feedback is what I use for changing draft numbers.

    I'm almost loathe to say this because I'm forever trying to *stop* newbies from worrying about someone stealing their scripts.

    But keeping your major drafts in hardcopy is proof of development which - even though it's *never* going to happen - would be useful in a court to prove you wrote it. (IANAL)

  2. I also save each draft after a major revision. I'm not talking about adding a new scene or cleaning up dialogue. A revision to me is rewriting it with a new main character or adding something completely different to the story and seeing how it plays out.

    I also save each file with the date I work on it and send it to my Google account to backup the files. You never know when the computer is going to crash.

  3. I go so far as to not call my first draft my "first draft." I call it my "zero draft" which is half a holdover from my days as an engineering student and half to prevent me from even THINKING about sending it out until I've taken a serious red pen to that sucker.

    I've read a surprising number of script submissions over the years that were obviously "zero drafts" where the writer hasn't even shown them to their girlfriend to check for typos. Those stay on my computer. Only after a dozen or so revisions (ranging from minor to not) of my own and maybe one set of notes from my wife I will call something a first draft and send it outside the walls of my house.

    In addition my numbering is completely internal. No one reading the script needs to know what draft number this is unless you're working with them and they need to keep track of your revisions.


  4. Drafts are kind of a personal thing, when you get down to it. Some people separate major revisions by draft, and some people do a polish and call that a draft too (I do this).

    I guess my writing partner and I are a little draft-happy, by those standards. Generally we go through at least four substantive iterations, which we call drafts, on each screenplay we write. A script with a lot of plot elements may go through seven drafts. Obviously not all of the drafts have substantive changes; it's just how we do things, I guess.

    But I agree nobody really needs to know how many drafts you've done. The catch is, as you pointed out, people will make judgments based on their own personal idea of what a draft is -- whether the person did two drafts or twenty. So I suppose it's best to keep that information on the down low. :)