On The First Draft of My Novel

November 29, 2016

Fifty Shades is a masterpiece compared to my first draft.

Featured_Image_On_First_Draft-300x300 On The First Draft of My Novel Featured Writing On August 10, 2016, at 3:37 am, I finished the first draft of my novel, after a six-hour writing session, that took me into the dead of night. 82,651 words. It was a cause for much celebration. I opened my desk drawer and took out a bottle of scotch. Poured myself a small glass and toasted my future success.

I decided to take three weeks off and not look at it. Let it sit. I spent time with the family. Went back to Southern California. Twice. Enjoying the respite.

On August 31st, I read it in one sitting. Oh, the horror.

“Why does this sentence sound like Yoda wrote it?”
“That’s not the character’s name.”
“Who is speaking?”
“I don’t know what that paragraph was about.”
“That’s not a sentence.”
“Where is the conflict?”
“I am a terrible writer.”

It was shocking how bad the writing was at times. And at first, I was dismayed. I began to feel like maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. But, it was too late for that. I had pushed all my chips in. I was going to finish this damn book.

So, I read it again. This time I felt something different. I still saw the writing errors and little annoyances, but I also noticed that the characters and dialogue were well rounded and believable. I felt the story was working. The plot needed some tightening, but it felt like beneath the simple writing, there was a good novel in the marrow of its bones. Another important fact, was the writing improved as I went along. The first three chapters were a mess and would have to be re-written from scratch, but as the story moved forward the better it became. This, of course, made sense. My writing muscles have been dormant for so long, that, of course, it would improve the more I wrote.

I was relieved. I know first drafts are usually terrible. But, I was not prepared for the utter debacle that was in front of me. So I set out a plan to revise and improve the writing and plot. The characters and story I thought were ready to go. Probably because those are the elements in all stories I adore above all else. The plot, the writing and all the other items that make up a book, are the colors that enhance the characters and story. But, I knew I needed a plan.

So, I created the revision plan below:

Revision 1 – Big Picture

  • Create a detailed outline of the novel.
    • Refine plot
  • Re-write the first three chapters.
  • Remove excess characters.
  • Improve character arcs.
  • Add/Remove scenes.
  • Increase conflict where necessary. But, do not force conflict.
  • Look for information dumps.
  • Get on with it. Avoid excessive scene setting.
  • Avoid generalities. Specifics add a ring of truth.
  • Foreshadowing Issues.
    • Foreshadow Setup and Delivery.
  • Avoid cliches.

Revision 2 – Basic Writing Style

  • POV errors.
  • Choose a normal word over the obtuse.
  • Show, don’t tell. But, sometimes tell.
  • Omit needless words.
    • Be on the lookout for filter words. Example: I watched the box blow apart.  Versus. The box blew apart. 
  • Keep adjectives and adverbs under control.
  • Dialogue Issues.
    • Avoid speaker tags by using beats.
    • Eliminate impossible speaker tabs: “I think you’re amusing,” He smiled.
    • Don’t be creative with speaker tabs: “It’s a lovely night,” She sung.

Revision 3 – Advanced Writing Style

  • Verify Order of Events.
    • The “As” Factor – Use “As” to show simultaneous events.
    • Participle Phrases – Another method to show simultaneous events.
    • Motivation/Reaction Units or Stimulus/Response – Events in their proper order.
  • Resist explaining.
    • John was angry. He smashed the table. “Get out of my restaurant!” she said, angrily.
  • Pronoun Antecedents.
  • Motivation/Reaction.
    • Motivation (stimulus) precedes reaction (response).
  • Intimate Point of View.
    • The key to intimate point of view is to show what the character sees, hears, feels, and smells, and to do so without drawing your reader away from the character.
  • Passive Voice and The “Was” Problem.
    • Look for cases in which the subject is being acted upon (passive) instead of performing the verb (active).
  • The “Only” Problem.
    • Look for places where “Only” is placed before the verb.
  • Loose Body Parts.
    • Hazel dropped her eyes.
  • The “Before” Problem.
    • Before usually describes an action that precedes another action. “Bill opened the parachute before he reached the ground.” Did both actions occur? 
    • “John caught Mary before she hit the ground.” Did both actions occur? 
    • Make it clear. “John caught Mary, keeping her from hitting the ground.”
  • Read aloud “Listening” for Repeated Words or Phrases.

This may seem more daunting than it is. I have to be careful not to lose the characters voice since it is a first person novel and remember it’s the story and characters that matter. I am not trying to win literary awards.

I am working my way through Revision 1. I made the mistake of believing I could have all this finished by the end of November. Now, I am working towards the end of January.
Most of these revision steps I found on YouTube, primarily a lecture by Bryan Davis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKw80FwZJU0

After I complete all these steps, I will hand it over to a professional editor. The process will begin again. Yay!
I will keep you posted.

Thanks for reading!

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1 Comment

  • Reply How to edit your novel? June 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    […] a cause for celebration that lead to a sobering and humbling first read through. Read my previous post from November for the results. That experience resulted in me realizing without a shadow of a doubt […]

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