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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Our Summer of First Draft Is Replaced By the Winter of Rewrite

Last night I finished my next novel TERRA HEXA 2 ... and celebrated on the town with wine, women and song...

That's the fantasy version. Now the REAL version of events:

Last night I completed the writing of the first draft of my next novel TERRA HEXA 2 ... and took a rest before starting the lengthy process of proofreading, revising and rewriting.

Writing and finishing the first draft gives you a buzz. You think: "Yes! This is good! Best thing I ever wrote!" But you're not finished - the buzz is a side-effect of the writing process.

The work that remains AFTER the first draft makes all the difference.

After you finish the first draft, let it lie for a few days (or weeks, if you have time). Then re-read it, from beginning to end, fix the small errors, and take notes about what could be changed or omitted.

Often you will find that some character details are missing and should be fleshed out, or that there is too much exposition in some part, or some internal inconsistency.

EXAMPLES OF FIRST-DRAFT MISTAKES:

-You forgot to give the villain a motivation for his behavior.
Did he have a unhappy childhood? Is he stupid? What's in it for him? Don't automatically assume that anyone who disagrees with the hero is "bad". Follow the money. If anything else fails, greed - smart greed - is a perfectly good motivation.

-You got lazy.
Your protagonist is hanging from the edge of a cliff, and a horde of bad guys are charging in from all sides. What does he do?
Aha!
From out of nowhere, a cave opening suddenly shows up in the cliff wall. Your hero climbs into the cave, which leads to safety. Is this great plotting or what?
Or what.
The escape route would have made more sense if it had been presented or at least hinted at earlier - like, three chapters earlier. This is called "foreshadowing".

When important plot points are suggested/hinted in advance, the reader is more likely to accept them. Or it looks like you're just making stuff up as you go along (which you are, but you're not supposed to tell the reader).

-You wrote the characters of the opposite sex with much less personality (than those of your own gender).
Now, don't panic! Everyone does this, and I mean everyone. It's just how human beings behave. But it can be fixed, or at least patched up.
Go back to the characters of the opposite sex, and ask yourself the basic questions:
-Where did they come from?
-Who were their parents?
-How did they grow up?

-Have they got family? (Very common mistake: to write characters who have no past, no friends, no social role, no job except to assist the "hero" character.)
-What do they want out of life, and how do they expect to get it?

-You didn't do your research.
Poul Anderson, in his essay "On Thud And Blunder", points out that horses are not automobiles: you can't drive them at full gallop for miles without a pause. And yet, many writers treat horses like sports cars - wrooom! off you go, to the next plot stop.

Whenever a realistic detail is important to the plot, read up on it and make sure you've got it right. This is called research, and it pays to do it also after the first draft.

-You made spelling and grammar errors.
I shouldn't have to mention this... but every first draft is packed with misspellings and bad grammar. How many times will you have to re-read your manuscript to fix them all?
Five times.
Five.

Are you starting to regret that you wanted to write a book? Good. if you can get past that regret, you're on your way to becoming a real writer.

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