Tag Archives: first drafts

10 Steps After “The End”

Guest Post by Editor and Author Adria Laycraft

So you wrote a book … CONGRATS! Not as many people as you would think make it this far. Writing and completing a novel is a big accomplishment. Take a moment and relish that. You deserve it.

Now here are ten steps to take before seeking critiques from others:

1.  Let it rest. The more space you can manage to put between yourself and the work, the more discerning you will be when you come back to it. But you MUST get some distance in order to see the work objectively.

2.  You let it rest, right? No, overnight is not enough. Go write something else. Plant tulips. Walk the dog. Take up yoga. You’ve had your head in this story for way too long, you know it’s true, so really try and get clear of it … and only time can do that.

3.  Now before we get into step three, I want to make sure you realize how serious I am about that rest time. If you’ve really done that, then it’s time to read through, make notes, and edit yourself. Draw up your plot points. Look for places to increase the tension. Be ruthless and delete what doesn’t further the plot, no matter how well written. You will likely do some line edits in this phase, but don’t let it consume you. There’s time enough for that later.

4.  Write a back cover blurb. This tests your knowledge of theme.

5.  Now write a synopsis. Two pages, single spaced, that sum up your story’s plotline, including the ending. This forces you to examine plot in big picture mode, and it will be useful later when you are sending in your submissions. Steps 4 and 5 are somewhat like reverse engineering–you want to take the finished product (your manuscript) and break it down to study the bare parts, the ingredients, and check their quality and coherency.

6.  Search out your story promises. Does the opening reflect what’s important? Does the ending resolve the promises made? If your opening scene is romantic, but it turns into an action thriller, that’s not fulfilling the story promise. Does the opening hint at things that are never important later? Those story promises need to be filled, or the hints rewritten to point to important plot items. And first lines are important, so if there is a place, person, or thing featured in the first lines that isn’t an integral part of the story, it needs to be deleted.

7.   Rewrite based on your findings, then scan through it again.

8.   REST. Yes, again. For weeks. Months if you can stand it. Here again we benefit from seeing the story anew after we’ve ‘forgotten’ it a bit.

9.   Now read again, fresh-eyed, and search for lines where you say the same thing twice and rewrite into one. Watch for where the word choices aren’t quite right and find better ones. Polish your prose so descriptions use subtext that enhance your theme, and subtle foreshadowing is in place to help make your ending surprising but inevitable. Check any spelling, punctuation, or grammar you are unsure of. You want your manuscript to appear as professional as possible.

10.   You’re ready for beta readers! Remember to be clear on your theme and plot before receiving critique so you can see where suggestions work or don’t work for the story you are trying to tell. Be prepared for many more revisions! Even a book deal will mean more editing to come. Writing, and publishing, is very much a long game.

Editor, Author, and Wood Artisan, Adria Laycraft tries to use her fickle creative squirrel nature as a tool, bouncing between several projects at any given time while wondering why people stare. Her new website (coming soon!) is at www.adrialaycraft.com with information about editing services. Watch for her novel Jumpship Hope coming from Tyche Books.

Before You Revise, Know Your Story – 5 Simple Steps

At first glance, the advice ‘before you revise, know your story’ seems like silly advice. Of course you know the story, you just finished writing it! But despite the thought, the sweat, the sleepless nights mulling over scenes and characters, do you really know your story?

It’s like baking a cake. You choose every ingredient carefully. The vanilla flavouring is not an imitation extract – you’ve sourced the beans, scraped them out, pulverised them to get an even distribution of the flavouring in the batter, but not so much that you’ve destroyed the essence – or have you? Have you done too much or too little? You’ve chosen every ingredient carefully, mixed, chosen the pan, and baked it all with the skills you’ve learned to date. But, is it the perfect cake? You don’t know until you step back, see if it’s lumpy, lopsided, and taste it to know if it’s too dry or too moist.

How do you get to know your story?

  1. Let it sit for a bit, two or three weeks. Like a cake, it needs to cool before the true flavours come out.
  2. Write, in one sentence, what the story is about. For example: the story is about a girl learning the true meaning of inner strength while challenging an evil king who has oppressed the people. This line about your story will be part of your pitch.
  3. Change the about sentence into a question. The climax must answer this question. If it does not, then there is a story problem which needs to be addressed. When a girl challenges an evil king who has oppressed the people, will she learn the true meaning of inner strength?
  4. Create a chart with the following headings, Scene #, Page, One-Liner Description, Scene Type, and POV. You may choose to add other columns such as Notes for the problems you discover but note them only and don’t be tempted to fix them yet for you may have to change or delete the scenes.Even if your story is organized into chapters, I recommend the chart be created at the scene level. For example, Chapter 4 might have five scenes. Number each of them and note the page number. This is important because every scene must pull its weight as it must somehow address the About Statement. If it does not, then it must either be changed to do so or eliminated.The One-Liner Description will not only tell you what the scene is about, but when this exercise is completed, you’ll have created an outline (many editors want this done). The outline will show you the shape of the plot and will point out gaps in logic or progression.

    Knowing the SCENE TYPE helps us understand story pacing and story balance. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from four to twenty or more scene types. I like to keep it simple by focussing on exposition, dialogue, action, and reflection. These are the four elements I want to keep balanced in a story. Is there is too much reflection and not enough action, or too much action and not enough dialogue? Examining scene types addresses issues such as the boring sections which may have too much exposition or reflection. Too many of those in a row can slow pacing and kill momentum. Too many action scenes in a row can cause reader fatigue and be unrealistic as characters need to stop and reflect, even for a moment whether it’s internally or in dialogue with someone.

  5. Forget the About Statement and Question you wrote in Steps 1 and 2. Write new ones based on the outline. Are they the same as what you originally thought? If they aren’t that isn’t necessarily a problem if you decide that this theme is what you want the story to be about.This exercise allows a writer to understand the story’s theme. That was the goal of the About Statement. The Question tells us very quickly if the climax and its resolution answer the theme’s concern. If they do not, or don’t do it satisfactorily, then there is a story telling problem which needs to be addressed.If you discover that the theme or About Statement has changed then you can either:
    1) accept the change and make sure all scenes address the new theme in some manner; or
    2) pinpoint the scenes which derailed the story theme, and rewrite with a view to making sure characters, actions and plot points address the desired theme.

Knowing your story and addressing plot, pacing and thematic issues will save you grief and many hours of work because there’s no point in line editing or scene editing if the scene needs to be eliminated or changed. Plus, your beta readers will love you. Beta readers will point out structural issues and problems this exercise has easily identified or they may know that there is a problem but don’t understand it. This process allows you to address the bigger issues ahead of time so that your beta readers can address other details, such as character inconsistencies, which are more helpful to your editing process. Make the best use of beta readers by giving them a structurally sound manuscript.

So, get to know your story because the rewards of doing so will be recognized and lauded by beta readers, editors and agents.

After the First Draft, What’s Next?

You’ve finished the first draft, what do you do now? Revise? Publish?

Of all the skills I had to learn about writing, this was the hardest. Revision takes patience, persistence and it requires objectivity. It also requires dealing with well-meaning friends and relatives and their enthusiasm for you. “You’ve written a book! That’s great! When will it be published? When can I buy it?”

Try explaining that the first draft is really just an in-depth outline which needs work and refinement. They don’t get it. Unfortunately, many writers don’t either. That’s a concern with self-published books. Most authors take the time to revise and perfect their manuscripts, but those who don’t have hurt the industry’s reputation.

The trouble is that revision is a hard thing to explain because many writers don’t understand the process or exactly what needs to happen. It’s more than just line by line revision, as we’ll come to learn in this month’s blogs. It’s about story structure and making certain scenes are doing their work. It’s about getting feedback from beta readers and perhaps even editors. We’ll hear from an acquisitions editor for a magazine and a freelance editor about what revision means to them.

We’ll even hear from a pantser about how she approaches revising her novels. This month’s blogs will also tell us HOW to revise. That’s what I had the most trouble with when I first started out, was knowing how to approach revision and what I needed to do.

The issue is this: we have lived, dreamed and scribed the story. We know the characters, the setting and the plot well. We know it so well, that we’re not aware of gaps, pitfalls, inconsistencies, clunky writing, too much telling, and not enough showing. But this creation is our baby and giving it time away from us so that others may applaud and criticize our efforts is a nerve wracking process.  Yet, it is so very necessary for if we don’t address the problems one of two things will happen: readers will either ignore us and never become fans, or the reviews will be so bad that no matter what we write again, it will not be read. And should that reader be an acquisitions editor – well, we don’t want our names to end up in the amateur, do not read pile. On all counts, that is a disaster because we writers desire to entertain through our marvelous creations of character, world, and plot.

My dear fellow writers, I have learned that the first draft is but a mere outline of the story. It begs to be revised time and time again until it becomes its best and perfect self. For it is in the perfection of creation that readers marvel. However, revision can be a joyful and creative process. But first, we must all learn the process, and that’s our goal for April!

First Drafts: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

My first drafts are ugly. I have friends who talk about plotting and planning for months before they ever write a word on a new manuscript. I can’t see myself doing that. I’m getting better at plotting but even so, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I plan and ponder, dream and think, my first drafts are still rough.

For me, a first draft is largely an exploration of the plot. It’s also about me trying to get to know the characters. It’s not until I’ve gone all the way through a draft that I start to get a handle on the sub-plots and themes, and it’s only then that I start understanding my characters. So my first drafts are perhaps more what other people call planning.

I’d love to be one of those writers who can complete a manuscript to satisfaction in just a couple of drafts. It usually takes me about three drafts to really nail down the plot and it’s only then that I can start worrying about the details – sensory, emotional, visual. This is when I start looking at issues like what time of year events occur in and what the weather is like. For some reason, my characters are always trapped in an “unseasonal heatwave”. Here in Australia, we have very hot summers so perhaps this is the reason for my obsession with heatwaves.  At about the dozen draft mark, I start feeling comfortable with what I’ve written and it’s really only then that I start to feel like I have a manuscript that’s getting towards being half decent.

I’m currently working on the first round of edits for a manuscript that I meticulously – for me, at least – planned prior to writing. I even used index cards – lots of them – and I thought I did a much better job of laying out the plot than I ever have before. However now that I’m finally re-reading this draft for the first time, I’m realising all that planning has left me with a first draft that really isn’t any better than what I usually produce. There are still massive plot holes, contradictions and things I just haven’t figured out yet.

So I’m wondering whether all that planning was a waste of time. Perhaps this is just the way my brain works. Maybe I need to go through that process of laying the story out, in the form of a first draft, to get my head around it. Perhaps what I’ve been thinking of as a first draft is really my planning stage. Other people use index cards, character notes, and synopses for planning. I guess I’m doing much the same, only mine is 80,000 words long.

So I’m wondering whether I’m approaching this the wrong way. All this time I’ve been telling myself I need to plan better, but perhaps what I’ve been thinking of as a first draft really is my planning process. It’s just a little longer than what some other people do. But then again, maybe I’m kidding myself.  Am I just being lazy and avoiding planning properly because I find it so difficult? That’s the problem with writers, isn’t it.  We can convince ourselves of just about anything by justifying it as our “creative process” instead of laziness.

So tell me: what planning process do you go through prior to writing your first draft?