The Five Questions

By Hope Bolinger, a professional writing student at Taylor University.

Finished that first draft? Fantastic! Now what?

How many more times must you slog your way through those 345 pages you just penned to perfection? Some say three. Ernest Hemingway says 39—and you might just be saying “farewell” to your arms after they fall off from typing so much.

Although this post may not provide a clear-cut solution, it does offer another approach. Since you have so many unanswered questions going into that second draft, why not tackle your fiction with just that . . . questions.

“What?” you may ask.

Good! That’s one of the questions. Who, what, when, where, why, and how (to be specific) can give a framework for where you take your prose next.

firstdraftmemeThe What Draft (First)—This, as you may have already completed, answers what happens in the story. Without this, you have no skeleton. Details are nice and all, but mere skin and muscle cannot walk and talk like a normal human. Ignore that nagging editor in your head during the what draft and simply explain the events of the story.

The Why/How Draft (Second)—Did Uncle Laran use a bathtub to help the Ancient Greek man travel back in time? Did you even look at a physics textbook before writing that sentence? Well, now’s the time to dive into the logistical side of the narrative. Give the characters strong motivations in this draft. Explain the method (the why) to their madness, or lack thereof.

The Where/When Draft (Third)—You may have a clear picture of what your characters look like in your head, even a strong inkling as to the elements of setting like the sweating wall in Danny’s dorm room. But your readers don’t have a clue. Use this draft to add details to help guide your audience around your world.

The Who Draft (Fourth)—Make each character sound distinctive in this draft. Give you narrator a particularly strong voice. While you’re at it, might as well use this time to copy edit and proofread. But, then again, you can always divide those into the fifth and sixth drafts.

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