Can I interest you in a short story about a cooking competition show that goes magically wrong in some way? Can I also interest you in every single version of that short story; from initial idea to outline to a draft that included four different, terrible endings, until a final version was reached?
Then you’ve come to the right place! (Much like Harvey Ratner, the host in my short story, I don’t care if you answered anything other than what fit my predetermined set-up.)
You see, many months ago, Ara from Bentley House Minis slid into my inbox, asking if I was interested in collaborating with her on a project. The idea was simple: she’d build the mini, I’d write the short. We’d blend our mediums together to create this story.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to create a Google Drive folder and share it with Ara. I put the outline in there, dragged and dropped the first truly awful page of word vomit in a file, and eventually wrote the Zero Draft.
Ara’s response made my heart soar. (Because she’s the best.) You see, she’d seen some videos on my channel before, and heard reference to this supposed “zero draft,” but didn’t really know what it meant. And she’s not the only one! “What’s a zero draft?” is easily the question I get asked most often!
So, I figured, I would share. I’d share my zero draft, show the differences between it and the final draft, and all the drafts in between. Hopefully this helps! ☀️
Ara’s initial email contained two options for builds she’d been wanting to try. As someone who was in the middle of a multi-series binge of MasterChef (and then Hell’s Kitchen), I was ecstatic to see “a cook-off competition scene that has gone wrong in some magical way” as one of them.
With what basically served as a writing prompt for me, I started The Outline:
Now, I’m not an outliner. I tend to know a bit about the beginning, less about the end, and somehow even less about the middle. (My Zero Drafts are usually me “figuring out the story” and just sort of writing recklessly. I’ll create a pseudo-outline somewhere after the first draft is completed.) So this was new to me! But Ara was going to use my outline as reference for when she started the build, so An Outliner I Became.
The Failed First Attempt
It happens. Sometimes you open your document, the blank page intimidates you, the cursor teases you with its blinking, and you write something that won’t go anywhere. I managed 592 words of crap heading in the wrong direction. So it goes.
The Zero Draft
The key is, always, that you must try again. In a crazy rush (as my zero drafts so often are), I wrote 3,103 words of mostly prose intermixed with random chunks of brainstorming. This is it. This is my Zero Draft.
And when I say “in a crazy rush,” I mean that I wrote it all in one sitting. The new direction came to me, and I was at its mercy as the story led the way. There’s a lot missing (as you’ll see, the later drafts are above 6,000 words each) but it was A Start. That’s all my zero drafts ever are: a start.
From the Zero Draft to the 1st Draft, the biggest development is that now the entire story is told in prose, rather than chunks of random musings. I also changed all instances of “SISTER1” and “HUSBAND2” and “EMCEE,” etc. to the actual names of the characters. I still have a bunch of underscores calling for me to reference Ara’s design and I have a multitude of partially written endings that I’m debating between.
At the start of the 2nd Draft, I gave myself “focus” points to fix. Most of this was adding in more description (always; I’m always adding description) and double-checking on flow. I also tried out another ending.
After completing the draft, I left comments for myself, basically checking for continuity errors. There were several. In the 3rd draft, I attempted to fix them! I also picked an ending and stuck with it. (Though you’ll see how it evolves again later bahaha.)
Now With Feedback
Once I’d completed the 3rd Draft, read over it several times, gave it a few days I rest, I decided it was time for feedback. My adorable little padres are always some of my first readers for short projects, so I gave them a baseline on what I was looking for (“Is anything confusing?”) and sent it over.
In answer to my question, yes, parts of it were confusing. Mostly surrounding keeping some of the characters straight. This is a struggle with a short story, but especially when I’ve decided to name too many people in it. (The penultimate scene, at the bar, was also confusing.) They caught a few instances where the story didn’t flow or they got hung up on wording, and also found a few typos (thanks mama!), but by and large they were excited about the premise and the ending left them wanting more stories.
So with their feedback in mind, I wrote Draft 4.
I scaled back the number of judges that we focus on, put Chef in front of Jordan Ramzi each time, and added a bit more dialogue at the beginning between the husbands in hopes that would help distinguish who they were later. Once again, the ending changed. There’s a callback to the beginning, but it wasn’t done as well as I’d wanted, so I tried to make it a touch more obvious and have the story end with both sisters discovering ~the twist~. I read it over a few more times, tinkered with some flow and fleshed out scenes that were confusing, and then it was time for my next round of betas!
My brother and sister-in-law are awesome readers! Especially because they both highlighted different parts that troubled/confused them, within the first page, and I think ultimately was solved by the same fix. When it came time to draft, I reworked how the setting was presented, making it obvious where we are (as the reader) and why our competition show (and short story!) is titled The Elbow Brush Bake-Off.
So may I present to you, the Fifth and Final Draft!
The Elbow Brush Bake-Off!
Thank you again, so much, to Ara for thinking of me for this collaboration! I had so much fun. And I hope y’all enjoyed the story and getting to see its evolution.