Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do you use parallel drafts?

We in the digital age are very lucky that we have the ability to do this, I think - create word files side by side that are almost identical. Parallel drafts are a really good way to test out a major change before you make it. I ran into a situation recently where I was considering getting rid of a character (the brother) in my story. That kind of change has enough possible repercussions over the whole length of the draft that I wasn't just ready to "try it and see." By the time I'd tried it, undoing it would be very difficult, because finding all the instances of places where it had changed the text would be a nightmare.

So I created a parallel draft and added 'No Brother' to the title.

The disadvantage of parallel drafts is that you have to make sure you give yourself a way to keep them distinct. I suppose it would be comparable to losing yourself in a bunch of parallel worlds (world-lines!) and not remembering which one you really belonged in. This is the reason why I only very seldom work with parallel drafts, and when I do, I don't keep them distinct through numbering. For some reason, I can never quite remember which was the most recent number, and it doesn't orient me sufficiently well. I have to put big verbal cues in the file titles, and then once I've executed the change, make a quick decision about which draft is going to become my new "home base." That means not making any subsequent revisions until I've decided which draft is true. If I have to start inserting the same revisions in two different places it drives me nuts.

So if you happen to be in the position of considering a parallel draft strategy, here are my recommendations:

1. Don't do it a lot. Do it only for revisions with very broad consequences over the whole work.
2. Clearly label your parallel draft with a title that reminds you what you did with it.
3. Decide which draft is your home base before moving on to any other revisions.

After putting together my 'No Brother' draft I decided I liked it much better than the other, and the next re-titling that one received was 'Analog Draft.' So all in all, it was a successful endeavor.


  1. In a way I have a parallel draft in that I took my old draft, moved it to a reference folder, and started back at the beginning. The new draft is very much my home base.

    I do have many parallel scenes and segments. The segments I've pulled out go into the reject file for reference, just in case I don't like the new paragraphs. I've got one section I plan to swap back to an older version, because I figured out how to make the older one work. (I'd liked it but had some motivations I couldn't work out for awhile.) Whole scenes that I've rewritten get numbered, though the version I'm running with is simply the base. The numbered ones go in the old draft folder. Occasionally, I'll rename a file depending on the changes made, and it'll get tagged with a reference note.

    I could probably go even more organized, but it's working pretty well so far. Scrivener is the biggest reason it works. Everything is on hand, and I can split screen with my current version and an old version.

  2. I use this method a lot in programming, especially when implementing a new program feature, or trying to make a current feature's coding more efficient. Once I believe I'm finished, I'll try to delete as many unnecessary versions as possible.

    For writing, I retain earlier drafts for a certain period of time. Since I have enough trouble getting work done on my main draft, I don't do a lot of parallel drafting on purpose. I do try to manage some extrapolation in my head. That way, I minimize the number of failed parallels.

    I've been looking more at parallel drafts recently, especially after my programming experiences, but I worry about keeping track of which draft is which. I've screwed that up in the past. it's extremely frustrating, and may stop me from working for awhile, as I work up the motivation to transfer that edit/revision to the proper draft.

    A very interesting topic and something I need to think more about.

  3. I used what you might call a "parenthetical draft" where, as I wrote the story, I would occasionally insert anywhere from a paragraph to a page of story background - usually in brackets and in a different color. As I went and revised my story I would take this information and incorporate it back into the actual text in a more passive ("show vs. tell") way.

    I realize that people probably do something like this as part of their world building *before* even writing the story, but I found that world I was building unfolded as the story progressed. A line or page of bracketed description might get boiled down into a line of dialogue with the background being implied.

    When I was done re-incorporating everything I created a separate file with all of the bracketed information deleted.

    Geek tip of the day - you can compare side by side documents in word by opening both documents, and going to window --> "Compare side by side with". Toggling "synchronous scrolling" will allow you to scroll both documents at the same time.

  4. Interesting, Meindzai. I agree with you that worldbuilding often unfolds at the same time as a story. Thanks a lot for the geeky tip - that'll help me, and others I'm sure, a lot with revisions!

  5. I've written parallel versions, which I assume means the same as drafts, with different styles and markets in mind.

    As for 'early' drafts, sometimes I'll complete an outline, and save it as 'story notes.' Then paste a copy into a fresh document, then begin writing the 'actual' text in sections, literally in between the outline's text. (This also works for my opinion columns.)

    How about different drafts of fiction?
    (Certain folks who know me would apply that term to my opinion columns as well . . . )
    Sometimes, it'll write the same story as told from the First and Third Person POVs.
    Also, a new story told from a 'dark' horror-ish view, and also from a positive 'SFnal' view.
    In one recent case, I've tweaked a long story to be either SF or Fantasy, for submission to the appropriate markets. Computers make this much easier, as one can have multiple and progressive copies of the same tale.

  6. This is starting to look like a list of creative writing drills. :)