In Which I Bare My Soul (Or First vs. Final Draft)...

When Maggie Stiefvater emailed me with a proposition: Either give up my large intestines or participate in a writing blog post where we would dissect a first draft of a scene vs. a finished draft, the choice was...well, not as easy as you’d think it would be.

As much as I like my large intestines (being that they help me digest my food and all), I really don’t like sharing my first drafts. Mostly because they’re messy. I much prefer everyone to believe that all of my drafts are as sparkly and error-free as the final version.

Kidding. (Kind of.)

But what really won me over was Maggie’s original post. How much would I have loved a post like this when I was scouring the interwebz for writing tips? It was like writer porn. And how could I NOT want to contribute a little writer porn of my own???

Not only do you get to see the differences between the first and final draft, but, following Maggie’s lead, I’m also going to explain why I made some of the decisions I made in this scene.

The “first draft” I’m showing you is the draft I sent to my agent before it went out on submission. I don’t have crit-partners who edit my work, only a husband with a red pen who’s willing to point out typos. I’ve chosen a scene from The Pledge that is meant to be spoiler-free, but gives you the gist of the story without ruining anything (in case you haven’t read it yet!).

Also, for those of you scrolling through this in a viewer, I apologize for the length of this post. Yeah, it’s a long one!

THE FIRST DRAFT (click on the pics to enlarge)

1. This is meant to set the scene. It’s important to ground the scene (in this case, a restaurant) so the reader isn’t left hanging. It also establishes what Charlie’s (Charlaina) role in the scene is.

2. Tells you something about people of the Counsel class.

3. Allows some of Charlie’s feelings for the upper class to shine through. Establishes that she has defiant thoughts, even if she keeps them under wraps.

4. Gives some of Brook’s backstory without being a total info dump. You get this background in fragments rather than all at once.

5. This is just a snippet to establish bond between the characters.

6. Setting up the tension and gives the reader a sense that something's about to happen.

7. This shows the reader what Charlie’s daily life is like in contrast to kids of the Counsel class. It also shows the class division in this society in general.

8. More of Charlie’s subversive thoughts...

9. ...countered by the fact that, in the end, she can’t help but be the obedient daughter.

10. A play on the fact that the Counsel woman’s smile (in paragraph 3) did reach her eyes. I like to play on words and phrases I’ve used in earlier passages.

11. Building tension as Charlie grows more uncomfortable with the girl’s presence.

12. I agonized over the swear here, mostly because I couldn’t decide if it fit. Ultimately, you’ll see I scratched it from the final version. I’m not opposed to swearing if it makes sense.

13. Establishes Charlie’s ability to understand the languages of the other classes (something that’s illegal in her world).

14.Again, she’s increasingly irritated, but you can’t just say that. Need to show rather than tell.

15. His occupation also sets his class apart from Charlie’s.

16. I chose italics as a visual cue to establish that another character is speaking in a language that Charlie isn’t “allowed” to understand. Clearly, we realize that she understands them all.

17. I also use a verbal cue so that if the reader misses the italics, they can still tell that another dialect is being spoken.

18. This is the appropriate response, and helps to establish the rules of her world.

19. Non-italicized speech means that she is permitted to comprehend them now, that they are speaking in an acceptable language for her. We also see in this section that the dad’s not a total D-Bag.

20. Charlie may be a tad dramatic, but this is more of her thought process for why she tries so hard to behave. It’s important to show motivations.

21. A good chance to show that Charlie is unique in her ability to understand all languages.

22. Okay, so now we now the girl is a total Be-otch! We should all hate her by now.

23. Charlie makes a fatal error by not looking away when the girl is speaking in italics.

24. Sometimes alliteration can work for descriptions. That said, sometimes it’s just plain cheesy. Be careful with it.

25. Uh-oh! Now Charlie realizes she’s in trouble. She tries to follow the rules...but is it too late?

26. Charlie has caused enough of a scene that her father (who she’s already expressed concern over) has realized what’s happening.

27. Need an emotional closing line to wrap a scene like this. The goal is to keep the reader wanting more.


1. I like the words “tinny” and “clattered”, they are very succinct and hard to misinterpret.

2. I’ve changed the woman at the table to a man (because this is a female-centric society, I’ve opted to make the woman who joins him later the working parent).

3. In the process of editing, there were boys added to this scene. They’re necessary for what unfolds later and this was a good time to introduce them.

4. This also tells us a little something about Brooklynn, who may be a bit of an attention whore. And that boys generally like her. A lot.

5. Here we find out that there’s one boy who doesn’t seem to be interested in Brook.

6. Because I’d given her a name in an earlier scene, she gets a name here as well. Sydney is shaping up to be an actual character in this book ;)

7. Gave a little more info as to what a Counsel family might look like, while also getting a dig in at Sydney’s expense.

8. Changed from “I wasn’t nervous” to “I didn’t want to be nervous” because clearly she was a little nervous. Her actions tell us so.

9. Also, changed “shitty” to “arrogant” as it seemed to suit the feel of the scene better.

10. See how it’s her mother who’s the working woman now? Also added another distinction between classes—clothing color choice.

11. Decided, also, to give another clue that these were not words Charlie was supposed to be privy to.

12. I like shorter, choppier sentences for dramatic effect, but unlike in the first draft, I decided it wasn’t necessary here.

13. I thought “pouring” was a better word choice here, since “filling” could imply faucets and I’m trying to give an old-world feel. It’s not that modern conveniences don’t exist (I mention an electronic scanner, plastic, electricity, etc.), it’s just that I’ve made a decision to discuss them as infrequently as possible.

14. Got rid of the line “And I couldn’t.” because, frankly, the continuity of it didn’t work.

15. Just showing that Sydney’s a drama queen, in case there was any confusion.

16. Gives an explanation of what Charlie did wrong, exactly.

17. Again, role reversal, and now this is her father speaking. Also, in the previous version I simply said: “Her mother tried to calm her down...” This is showing how that played out, rather than leaving it to the reader’s imagination.

18. I love this line and was glad it made the final cut.

19. Now we see what Charlie is going through, and also get a glimpse at what’s going on in the restaurant around her.

20. Wait! Did they just share a mini-moment? I think they might have...

21. Her dad is now rushing out to see what’s happening, rather than just poking his head out the door. Makes more sense if your daughter just broke the law.

22. And this clarifies the consequence for her actions.

For more writer porn (aka. first versus final draft posts) from other authors, check out Maggie's blog...she's gonna put up a little linky action!


Rose Green said…
Ooh, thank you! I've really been enjoying this series of revision posts. You can tell me and tell me and tell me how to do it, but if you show me an example of real text with the before and after, it just makes SO much more sense.
I'm a really visual learner too, so things like this really work for me too! I've even been looking over the other authors' posts to see how they get from A to Z.
Diane Bohannan said…
Thank you for sharing your drafts! Breaking down the scene and explaining why you took away some things and added other words is so helpful! Thanks again!!
Renee Sweet said…
Thanks so much for taking the time to share this info! I really appreciate it. :)
You're welcome, Diane and Renee :)
Steve MC said…
Thanks for this inside look - I especially liked how the addition of the guys and that "deadly" last line added to the drama.
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