New York Times  Bestselling Author

Finished! (And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison)

15[1]          I finished The Midwife’s Confession  yesterday and John and I are going to see Wicked this evening to celebrate. Yeah! The last month of writing a book is sheer torture; there seems to be no way around it. Every time, I tell myself I’ll figure out a way to prevent that last month from being such a killer, but I have yet to find the cure. Something miraculous always happens during that last month, though: the characters grow into themselves, the details fill out the story, and most significantly, I finally start to think I’ve written a really good book. Up until that last month, I’m never sure.

          As I did when I finished The Lies We Told, I thought I’d share a paragraph or two from the first draft as well as from the final (fifth) draft so you can see the transformation. I do this to encourage those new writers among you. While  you may be writing a pile of garbage in the beginning, you can eventually end up with a real book!

          This book had two major challenges in addition to the usual task of telling a good story. One, I decided halfway through to change the four points of view from third person to first. You’ll notice below that Emerson changes to first person in the final draft. I hope you’ll feel closer to her that way–I certainly did. But making that sort of change in a 400+ page manuscript was exhausting and tedious! Whew. Second, three of the characters are women around 40 years of age with similar backgrounds and values, which made it difficult to give them distinctive voices. I think I succeeded, but that is one thing I’ll still be working on in revisions.

          Speaking of revisions, what happens next is that my editor and agent will read the book. They will then make their suggestions, which will force me to take to my bed for about twenty-four hours before I pull myself together and start fixing whatever they think needs fixing. But for now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

          So here are the two examples. I am not giving anything away by telling you that the midwife in the story, Noelle, kills herself very early in the book. Emerson is her sister, who hasn’t heard from Noelle in a couple of days and is worried about her. Enjoy!

Old Draft:

          Emerson unlocked the door and walked into the kitchen.

          “Noelle?” She shut the door behind her, hitting the lock for no reason she could name. Just unnerved. She walked toward the bathroom. A slip in the shower maybe. But then why would she have told Lizzie to take care of Patches? The bathroom was small, spotless and empty. From the hallway, through the open door of the bedroom, she saw her. She lay on her back, her hands folded across her ribcage, still and quiet as though she were meditating. But her waxen face, the line of pill bottles, told her something different. It was impossible. Impossible. Emerson fell to her knees at the side of the bed, grabbing Noelle’s cold lifeless hand. “Noelle,” she whispered. “Why? Why?”

New Draft:

          The key was caked with dirt and I wiped it off on my t-shirt, a sure sign I didn’t care about a thing except finding out what was going on with Noelle. I unlocked the door and walked into the kitchen. “Noelle?” I shut the door behind me, turning the lock because I was starting to feel paranoid. Her purse lay like a floppy pile of leather on the table and her car keys rested on the counter between the sink and the stove. Patches’ food and water bowls were upside down on the counter on top of a dishtowel. The sink was clean and empty. The kitchen was way too neat for my sister. Noelle could mess up a room just by passing through it.

          I walked into the postage stamp of a living room, past the crammed bookshelves and the old TV we’d given her a few years ago when we bought the big screen. Past the threadbare brown sofa. A couple of strollers sat on the floor in front of the TV and three car seats were piled on top of some cartons, which were most likely filled with Stork Village donations. More boxes teetered on top of an armchair. I was definitely in my sister’s world. On the wall above the sofa were framed pictures of Jenny and Jack, Gracie and Cleve and Leo. The kids of the Galloway Girls. Noelle’s family.

          I walked past the first of the two bedrooms, the one she used as her office. Like the living room, it was bursting with boxes and bags and her desk was littered with papers and books . . . and a big salad bowl filled with lettuce and tomatoes.

          “Noelle?” The silence in the house was creeping me out. A slip in the shower? But why would she have told Libby to take care of Patches? I reached her bedroom, and through the open door, I saw her. She lay on her back, her hands folded across her ribcage, still and quiet as though she were meditating, but her waxen face and the line of pill bottles on the night table told me something different. My breath caught behind my breastbone, and I couldn’t move. I wasn’t getting it. I refused to get it. Impossible, I thought. This is impossible.

(PS Margo, thank you for reminding me of this “I’m finished!!!” photograph of Keeper and myself!)

The Lies We Told is now available for preorder.  Watch for my online booksigning the first week of June!

13 Comments

  1. Margo on May 10, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Ahhhhhhh, my favorite photo Diane!!…Congratulations on finishing and giving us a glimpse of MIDWIFE’S CONFESSION.
    Seeing how your 1st draft changed and developed into the final one is astonishing!!…to think this is what happens with the entire novel tells me you must eat, breathe and sleep with these characters for as long as it takes to write the book…pure genius Diane…I’m just in awe…

  2. Margo on May 11, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Diane, I meant to tell you how much I love the name ‘Emerson’…beautiful…

  3. Diane Chamberlain on May 11, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, Margo. I like the names of my four “Galloway Girls”. They became friends when they lived in the Galloway Dormitory at UNC-Wilmington. Tara and Emerson have points of view in the story, while Shannon and Ryan Ann are important characters. And characters is the right word for them!

  4. Margo on May 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Love ALL these names Diane…I’m so happy for you that you’ve completed the drafts…it must feel tremendous to know your new book is out in a few weeks, and another is basically completed for 2011…

  5. brenda on May 11, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I am feeling better AGAIN…so glad you finished. However, knowing you, Diane, you have plotted yet again…

  6. brenda on May 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Diane-I looked up directions to go to the luncheon with authors on the l0th–it is too far for me to drive the day school is out. I would have to drive all night to be there the l0th-I have not given up…

  7. Diane Chamberlain on May 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    It’s also a fund raiser, Brenda, so a bit hard on the wallet. One of these days we’ll get to meet! Yes, I am plotting, but first I am writing guest blogs and articles and all sorts of other stuff! It’s good because it’s getting me back into thinking about The Lies We Told, which I need to do for upcoming interviews. No rest for the weary!

  8. […] Use It: Don’t ever worry if a first draft doesn’t seem very good – especially if you’re writing fiction. If you can, take a look at a published author’s first draft and compare it with the finished work. Here’s an example, bravely posted by Diane Chamberlain: Finished! (And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison) […]

  9. […] Use It: Don’t ever worry if a first draft doesn’t seem very good – especially if you’re writing fiction. If you can, take a look at a published author’s first draft and compare it with the finished work. Here’s an example, bravely posted by Diane Chamberlain: Finished! (And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison) […]

  10. […] Use It: Don’t ever worry if a first draft doesn’t seem very good – especially if you’re writing fiction. If you can, take a look at a published author’s first draft and compare it with the finished work. Here’s an example, bravely posted by Diane Chamberlain: Finished! (And a First and Fifth Draft Comparison) […]

  11. Ali on August 10, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    I’ve never read your books, and I know I’m years late, but I was feeling discouraged.. so, I began searching first drafts compared to the final product and ended up here. I feel inspired again. Thank you!

    • Diane Chamberlain on August 10, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      Glad it helped!

  12. Nordlys on May 1, 2018 at 9:50 am

    I believe that the story had to change totally. Instead i see that the last draft is fleshed out and makes sense, but the core is the same.

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