Tuesday, May 08, 2012

After the First Draft

I just finished writing my next novel.

Those are wonderful words. And true ones. Over the weekend I finished the first draft of my next release.

The first draft.

Now begins the real work of being a writer.

Remember how I said I am a pantser? I write as the story comes to me, as the characters reveal their peccadilloes and peculiarities, and I like it like that. While I have a general outline in my head (I write romances, so you know the hero and heroine will eventually see what we readers have already figured out), I don’t know the details.

And because I don’t know the details, I often drop little pieces of information that I later forget to pick up. Or I write in an action later in the book that I never set up in earlier chapters.

And this is the hard part. Going back through the manuscript and pulling together the details, tying together the threads that are broken, picking up the ends of those that need to be rewoven into the fabric of the story, and being ruthless in trimming away the extra pieces that don’t fit the pattern.

At this stage, I wait between several days and two weeks before I start again at the top of the story and read with a critical eye, finding each of those details that need dealing with. The easy ones I take care of on this pass through. The harder ones (like cutting entire scenes, which happens!), I often make a comment in the margin to put off the pain and keep going. I will cut what needs to be cut – but sometimes I need to get used to the idea before I actually highlight and remove the offending passage to my “extras” folder.

(Sidenote: I keep an extras folder for every single story I’ve ever written. It contains sometimes only a phrase or sentence that I liked but it didn’t fit [and I might use later in some other story], sometimes it contains entire scenes that didn’t work. These scenes on occasion become short stories of their own [Secret Signs in Timeless Love, for example]).

That’s draft two.

The next go is my eye on continuity. Does my hero keep the same hair color throughout? If they were sitting at the start of the scene and standing at the end of it, did I actually tell the reader that they stood? This is the hardest pass for me since I can see the scenes in my head and I think I’ve got everything covered. Then someone else will read it and invariably, find something I missed.

And then, and only then, is it ready for an editor. Not for readers, for general consumption, but for an editor (see above for one of several reasons why I need one!).

You may notice I don’t do any passes for grammar, spelling or punctuation. That’s because I’m really good at those. Really. Not tooting my own horn here, but my teachers in school made sure I knew how to write good sentences and where the punctuation marks go. Spelling was always easy for me and the words I have trouble with? Well, that’s why we have spellcheckers.

So how is all this a workshop today? I’m leaving you an activity below, but you have to have a first draft of a story (any length) already finished to do it.


Make sure some time has passed between the time you finished writing the story and the time you start this activity. Two weeks is reasonable. See why below.

1) Using a separate piece of paper, scroll through your story and mark down the timeline. If it’s a longer story, go day-by-day and chapter-by-chapter. Note what days take up how many chapters. Double check: do you have any scenes that start at one time of day but end in an unrealistic time for the action depicted? (example: I had a scene that started in midafternoon, lasted about an hour and ended with the sun setting. Obvious rewrite needed there!). NOTE: it is not necessary to read your manuscript carefully at this time. You’re looking only at the timeline of events.

2) Start at the beginning of your story and read through with a red pen in hand (if printed out) or the comment button readily available (if using a wordprocessor). Mark it up. Be ruthless. Find the details that don’t matter and cross them out (or delete them entirely). Put a star where you need to add more detail to make the scene come alive. Use that fine-tooth-comb!

3) Set your manuscript away again for a few days. This allows you to gain perspective and “forget” the story’s details. When you pick it up, you’ll do so with fresh eyes.

4) Continuity check. You may have already noted some of things that don’t add up when you went through it for step 2. That’s okay. Give it another go-through and fix all those problems (if you didn’t already).

5) Check for spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you know you have a problem area, this is the time to make sure you didn’t fall into the trap. This is also the time, if you have a problem area, you hand the mss over to someone else with the specific direction to check for spelling (or commas, or split infinitives, etc.).

6) Think it’s ready? Find thyself an editor and release your story to the world!


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