I am of the general belief that revisions can wait until the book is done. Finish the rough draft, take a break, come back and rework the story accordingly. My reasoning for this is pretty straightforward: you don't know what you've got until you've finished it. Though, yes, you can certainly revise as you go and make a more polished work - you're still (probably) gonna have to revise big chunks based on where you went with the story. Holes and lost threads are kind of par for the course in this writing gig.
As my friend Deb puts it (and I'm paraphrasing here): That hedgehog you had on page five? Who knew how important that hedgehog would be? The hedgehog saves the story! The hedgehog is the linchpin! He holds everything together.
But when you wrote the hedgehog on page five, you didn't know that. And! It could go the opposite way: you thought the hedgehog was going to be SuperImportant...but it turns out the hedgehog was just a hedgehog after all.
Which brings me to the book that most George R.R. Martin fans flung across the room. (My husband included.) This is book four in the series: A Feast for Crows.
The reason a lot of fans took issue - and in some cases still take issue - with this middle novel was because the main characters faded into the background. Martin made a very concious decision to focus on a set of characters in a certain geographical section of his world. Information had to be disseminated and, as the author, he felt this the best way to get it out there.
Now, I trust that Martin has a clear vision of his world. I trust that he has more of an idea where he wants to go with the story than his readers/editors/publishers because it's his story. That being said, however, I can't help but wonder - or worry? - that since the series isn't actually finished it's more like a rough draft than a completed work.
When you're writing one book it's difficult enough to know where the hell you're going until you're there. Now stretch that difficulty along the length of seven books. Sure, Martin has finished five of the seven books, and he seems back on track with book five: A Dance with Dragons. But there are two loose books out there.
How does he know what the hedgehog will do? Is A Feast for Crows going to turn out to be really unecessary? Or will it be the linchpin, the cornerstone, and the readers just can't see it yet?
For example, looking back on another awesomely famous series: Harry Potter. Let's examine Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love Rowling. I love Harry. However. The only part of that entire book we, as readers, needed was the fact that Voldemort came back to a body. That's it. The adventure was interesting - though convaluted. (I mean, what a pain-in-the-ass plan to get Harry to touch a portkey, right? Made me question the deviousness of the bad guys...can't they keep it simple?) If there's any unecessary hedgehog in that series, it's in Goblet of Fire.
Some of this comes - I'm sure - from the writer not knowing what's really necessary until the end. Threads get lost in the smallest books. A huge series with thousands of pages has millions of threads and, therefore, way more opportunity for meandering/getting lost.
However, Rowling pulled it off with a minimum of hedgehogs and I'm certain that Martin will too. How so? Well, I'm not in their heads, but I'm pretty sure that there are some techniques that control the potential chaos.
1. Knowing the end.
Rowling knew down to the last word the ending of Harry Potter. Sure, that word changed. But she had her vision and stuck to it. Thus, less hedgehogs. And Martin, I'm pretty darn sure, knows where he's going. For all the Starks that die and shift and adjust - they're still gonna be the big dogs at the end. (Ha! Dogs.)
***Oh! And because I like making predictions, and because I've only read the first two books so I feel cocky enough to predict the end based on the beginning...Jenny's predictions for the end of the series!:
1.) Bran will ride one of the dragons = war hero. And, if both Jon and Danerys bite it...he's gonna be the big leader.
2.) Jon and Danerys are gonna be the big leaders - one or the other might die and one or the other might rule...or (this is my real bet) they fall in love and rule jointly. Either way they're not only going to be the big leaders, but they're going to care deeply for each other.
3.) Tyrion's probably gonna die. Sorry. But it will be one of the more affecting deaths because it'll be near the end in a glorious victory that he created. Bittersweet.
4.) Sansa...well, I don't know about her. She seems like someone who will grow into the manipulative Cersei, but for good instead of evil. Wouldn't surprise me if she's some kind of bard-like character who tells the story. She is fascinated by fairy tales and legends, after all.
5.) Arya - she could go one of a million different ways. Struggling with her a bit. Though it wouldn't surprise me if she was the one who took out Tyrion somehow....***
Ali keeps her Book Bible. I'm 99.99999% certain that Martin does too. Perhaps it's a shoebox full of ideas and scraps - like Rowling - or perhaps it's a three ring binder that contains maps and character sketches and scene orders. But I'm willing to bet money I don't have that he's got something, somewhere that works as an outline/guideline. Because if he's keeping all this world information in his head - I want his brain.
What other techniques can writers use to track their work? How do you control the chaos that results from rough drafts/lengthy series details?