The field guide to my annotations in a draft

- 3 comments

I tend not to stop when I’m writing a draft, unless it’s for something really vital (for instance, the precise headdress that someone is wearing is something I can always work out later; the layout of the rooms where the nobleman was murdered and that my characters are searching is rather more vital to the way the scene plays out, and requires me to have actually done the research/invention/work). Accordingly, my first (and subsequent) drafts are peppered with little notes to myself, that I generally smooth out in the next revision.

I stole a leaf from a friend’s book, who marks such places in his manuscripts with @; except I upgraded to square brackets because 1. there’s less risk of me accidentally using them in anything, and 2. Square brackets enable me to see the beginning and the end of my own annotations.

(cut for length)

Here’s a an example from my latest WIP:

The view zoomed out; a thin line of green threaded its way through the debris–a zigzag course through some of the less cluttered areas [MB]. “My best guess,” The Dragons in the Peach Gardens said.
“That’s assuming they’ll take the obvious path,” Sixth Aunt said, her eyes still on the map.
“Security reasons?” Thuy asked. “They’ll assume there isn’t a ship that can touch them; and ordinarily they’d be right.” She stared at the map again, willing the truth to emerge from the jumble of debris–but the only truth that would come was the same Chi already knew; that nothing was fair or [?] in life.
“What would you do if you were Chi?” Sixth Aunt asked.
Thuy shook her head. “I can’t tell what she would do. Not anymore.”
Sixth Aunt said nothing. Chi had stayed a while, after the accident; and she’d tried, for a while, to act normal; to pay her respects every morning to her elders; to [special attention to Sixth Aunt]; to pretend that everything was fine. But the change that had come over her–the magnitude of what had happened to her while she’d hung alone in the carcass of the ship with her spacesuit’s thrusters disabled–was like a wound in the family’s everyday life; like a swarm-mine sending shards and shrapnel [R?] long after it had detonated–like smart bullets still worming their way through a body, years and years after the impact.
[MB]

[WW]: wrong word, pick another one

[?]: missing word

[MB]: missing bit (generally a large bit: portions of a sentence or entire paragraphs).

[R]: repetition, find another word

[retcon]: self-explanatory

[blech]: also self-explanatory 🙂

And any longer chunks of text, of course, if I need to put in more details between the square brackets.

You’ll notice that there are large chunks of things that I’m missing (for instance, a sentence where I’m a bit unsure what peculiar attention Chi would have had for Sixth Aunt, or entire paragraphs near the end); but I also put in the square brackets when it’s just a question of flow (the lone [?] in the third paragraph): I’d rather save the space for one or two missing words while I’m still in said flow, than have to reread the entire text and work out where my rhythm slipped.

And here’s the cleaned-up version:

The view zoomed out; a thin line of green threaded its way through the debris–a zigzag course through some of the less cluttered areas. “My best guess,” The Dragons in the Peach Garden said.
“That’s assuming they’ll take the obvious path,” Sixth Aunt said, her eyes still on the map.
“Security reasons?” Thuy asked. “They’ll assume there isn’t a ship that can touch them; and ordinarily they’d be right.” She stared at the map again, willing the truth to emerge from the jumble of debris–but the only truth that would come was the same Chi already knew; that nothing was fair or equitable in life.
“What would you do if you were Chi?” Sixth Aunt asked.
Thuy shook her head. “I can’t tell what she would do. Not anymore.”
Sixth Aunt said nothing. Chi had stayed a while, after the accident; and she’d tried, for a while, to act normal; to pay her respects every morning to her other elders; to bring fruit fresh from the orchard to Sixth Aunt; to pretend that everything was fine. But the change that had come over her–the magnitude of what had happened to her while she’d hung alone in the carcass of the ship with her spacesuit’s thrusters disabled–was like a wound in the family’s everyday life; like a swarm-mine ejecting shards long after it had detonated–like smart bullets still worming their way through a body, years and years after the impact.
The parts. Thuy blinked, and said aloud, “Can you tell me what the parts would be used for?”

Notice that there’s stuff I did indeed fix and bits I added, but there’s also places where I decided it wasn’t worth it to add to the existing sentences (also, I write relatively clean drafts; I tend to have a really messy brainstorming process and to only commit words after I’m reasonably sure ).

What about you? Do you note where you need to add bits in a draft? Do you use Word comments or some other process?

3 comments

  1. I’m surprised someone else does this. I don’t use it quite this. What I do is to use “something” where I’m looking for a word or use [!] when I want to fix a word or expression. Missing bits are almost always commented at length in [], so I actually know what’s happening.

  2. Ah, I use it for that as well, it’s much more useful than sticking Word comments everywhere 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one!

  3. I avoid Word comments. They distract me. I only use them when I critique or have my work critiqued.

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