Category Archives: first draft

Of Broken Things – five things I’ve learned revising Part 1.

pen-and-paper

I have passed yet another milestone on my long journey as a writer. Last night I finished rewriting / editing Part 1 of my novel Of Broken Things. Yes, it took me the better part of three months, so some might consider that I’m moving at the speed of a tortoise. But it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I’m moving forward.

It’s interesting to look back and see just how far I’ve come on my journey. Last October, I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to write 50k words necessary to win NaNoWriMo, but I did. Then I was convinced that I would never be able to finish the first draft, but I did that as well.

And when I looked at the 300 pages brick that was my finished first draft, I was convinced that I would never be able to edit that. Heck, I had no idea how to even begin making it better…

Well, three months later, I am a third of the way through with the revision, and it’s not as bad as I thought. Yes, it’s long and painful and rather soul-draining at times, but I can really see my story getting better, so it’s all worth it in the end.

So now that I have some editing experience under my belt, it’s time to share with you a few essential things I’ve learned. Those tidbits of wisdom are, of course, personal, and might not reflect your writing experience, because hey, we are all different, and so is our writing process.

1. The first draft sucks.

My first draft was a hot mess. It doesn’t help that when I write my story down for the first time, I just go with the flow. I never re-read what I wrote the day before or look back to edit, I just charge on ahead. Sometimes I follow my (very loose) outline, sometimes I go on a tangent and get lost in the woods before I limp back on the long and sinuous road to The End. So the end result is full of typos and repetitions, ravings and plot holes big enough to swallow a semi. There is a good story buried somewhere in there, but you need to get out your mining gear and be willing to do some hard work in order to dig it out, clean it up and polish it till it shines.

Which brings me to the next tidbit of wisdom:

2. Editing the first draft = rewriting 90% of it.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

I had noticed that when I edited my short stories. I had dreaded that when I started editing Of Broken Things, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be the same. Sadly, it was. If you look at my printed copy, you would think that I bled all over the pages (that is if I my blood was blue), there is so much ink on them. I have moved scenes around, rewritten some of them from scratch, hacked and slashed and merged some of them together. Some pages might have maybe one or two untouched sentences, but most have none.

3. If you didn’t use an outline for the first draft, you better make one before you start editing.

Seeing how many things need to change during the editing process, having a detailed (preferably scene by scene outline) is essential. Starting a major revision without one is like going into the woods without a map or even a compass – you will most certainly get lost and probably do more harm than good. You have already finished this story, so you should know what it’s about (or I hope you do). So re-read it, outline it, mark the scenes that advance your story, those that need to be changed, and those that have no business being there at all. Take notes. They will really help you once it’s time to beat this baby into submission, ahem, start editing.

On a side note, it’s also good to keep a list of all the names and places, as well as a good timeline of your story. After all, you are working on filling in those plot holes, not creating new ones.

4. Save your original version before you start hacking and slashing.

ALWAYS save the original copy of your work before you make any changes. You never know what scene you might desperately need back two days after you happily threw it into the incinerator and pressed the Burn button.

And while you’re at it, save your progress regularly as well… in multiple places. That way if your power goes off expectantly, or your laptop shows you a blue screen of death and refuses to be revived, all that hard work is not lost forever.

5. Keep going.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

It’s hard work. I had thought that writing the first draft was hard; well, it was a walk in the park compared to editing it. There are moments when I want to bash my head against the wall because I have I know a scene sucks but nothing I do makes it any better. It would be so easy to get discouraged and just give up. After all, you’ve done it already, right? You finished that story. You got to THE END once. Why not just leave it and write something new next?

Don’t give up. Leave that scene that makes you want to pull your hair out. Take notes on what doesn’t work and continue with another scene. You’d be surprised at the wealth of ideas you come up with when you come back to it the next day. Even if you’re not happy with something during the first revision pass, you can always change it during the next one. That’s the good thing about writing – nothing is set in stone until the book is published. Once you realize that, the whole process becomes very empowering.

So what do you guys think? What is your editing process? What problems have you encountered during your revisions? What lessons have you learned? I want to hear from you!

Editing my novel – first steps.

Editing woes

 

My big adventure as a writer started November 2013 when I attempted to take advantage of NaNoWriMo to write at least part of my first ever novel. I plowed ahead and even won NaNo with a nice 55k word count. My novel, however, was only halfway done. So I persevered. I applied butt to chair for the whole of December (well I made a break for the holidays) and half of January, until I had finally put THE END on my manuscript. I ended up with a 100k word brick and an immense sense of satisfaction. I did it! I had finally finished something. For the first time ever. Yay me!!!

So I put my first draft in a drawer and busied myself with writing a couple short stories. That was also fun and challenging in a different way than writing a whole novel. When you have a very limited amount of words to tell your story, you have to be a lot more careful about the choices you make.

Short stories were also my first serious attempt at editing a piece into something good enough print (still working on that, first story is on version three so far). I had tremendous fun editing and rewriting them, trying to see if I could tell my story better.

But now I am faced with the 100k brick that is my first draft, and I must admit that the task of editing it is daunting. I mean it took me two weeks to tweak a 5k words story well enough to be able to send it to my critique group, how long would going through THAT many words take me? I admit that I am terrified. I have been circling around this text since beginning of March, unsure where to start.

I even sent it to my wonderful beta who had been there with me every step of the way while I was writing the darn thing. I think she sensed my rising panic, because she advised me to break the story into manageable chunks, to re-outline my novel now that it’s finished, breaking it into scenes, and go from there. That’s what I have been busy doing for the past week.

I must admit that this advice was invaluable. Not only do I have a clear Excel spreadsheet with every scene making every chapter, but I also have a better understanding of what is going on in my story. I now know how the events unfold and link to each other. And I already see a few problems that need fixed. I didn’t notice them when I read through the manuscript before, even though I felt that something wasn’t quite right.

So now that I have that clearer picture, I can start working on my plan of attack. Hopefully, I will manage to make my novel better (and not get paralyzed by fear in the prospect of the cheer volume of words I have to edit).

But this is the first lesson I learned about editing a novel – a detailed scene by scene outline is a must.

The process is ongoing, so stay tuned for more!

A Newbie’s reflections on editing

Editing my short story.
Toss and rewrite.

As far as editing is concerned, I am what the gamer world would call a total “noob”. I have only started seriously applying butt to chair since October 2013, and so far I have a finished first draft of a novel and two short stories to show for that. So I have minimal experience with editing my work (even smaller than my experience in actually writing it).

However, I started this blog not only to share my thoughts and opinions on books and shows I like, but also to track how I progress and evolve as a writer. So based on editing two short stories and finishing the re-read of my first draft, I have made several observations about my writing process.

So far, when I sat down to edit both of short stories, I ended up keeping about 10% of the original text and rewriting everything else. When I noticed that, at first I was depressed, because I felt bad for all that time I wasted writing the first draft only to toss most of it away. But then I started analyzing the differences between the draft and the end product, and the result was not as abysmal as I had thought. Yes, I had tossed 90% of what I had written, but the bones of the story remained the same – the plot stayed in those 10% that were left in its entirety. So I got the structure of the story right the first time around, but it’s the presentation that needed reworking.

Doesn’t that realization make you feel better instantly? I know it did for me. I didn’t waste that time writing the first draft. I put the skeleton of my story together instead. And those scenes that I tossed and rewrote? They served a purpose too. They showed me that first setting / event/ character reaction that came to my mind didn’t work. If I hadn’t put it down on paper and re-read it, I would never have noticed that. Guess what, that made me think of a different way of telling the story. And if the critiques I received on Critters are to be trusted, the story only became better because of that.

And now I am faced with the daunting task of taking the first draft of my novel (which about 95k works longer than my short stories) and trying to make a decent story out of it. I must admit that I am scared: if I have to toss and rewrite 90% of the original, that would be about 90k words. That can potentially take me A LONG time. But I have learned one thing from the short story editing exercise and the read through my draft – the plot is there, the characters are alive and their POVs are visible, so the “bones” of the novel are solid. Now I just need to make sure to flesh it out and dress it in Sunday’s best before I let it fly into the world.

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.

On editing – did I really write this crap?

When I was in the middle of the first draft of my novel, I ready many blog posts about writing, first drafts, rewriting and editing. I read somewhere that first drafts sucked, and that you were lucky if you kept about 10% of it on the rewrite. I remember thinking this can’t be true! That would be absolutely horrible and heartbreaking to spend months putting one word after the other just to have most of them end up in the dust bin.

Well, once I finished my first draft and put it in a drawer to marinate until I come back to it in February, I decided to distract myself by writing a short story. It was set in a completely different world than my novel and it was fun to write… Then I decided that before I could dive into editing a 100k words manuscript, I should probably try and tackle a 4k words story first, just to see what it entrails.

I read my short story with a critical eye and realized that it had all kinds of inherent problems.

First of all I was so focused on putting the story down and fitting it in a short story format, that I didn’t give my main character a chance to say anything. Basically, it was like I gagged her, tied strings to her arms and legs, and marched her down the story like a brave little puppet. She did all those wonderful deeds and never got a moment to tell the reader why she did them or how she felt about them.

Then I noticed a second problem with my story. My heroine encounters an old dying werewolf and, after hearing the creature’s story, takes pity on it and puts its soul to rest. Well, the werewolf’s story frankly sucked. A woman scorned by a man who turns into a monster and destroys the entire village where the man lived? Including innocent women and children who had done her no harm? No way in hell my character would empathize with a monster like that! But the fact that she connected with the werewolf and understood her pain was important to the story. The conclusion was – the werewolf needed a better story.

 Editing my short story.Editing my short story.

So I sat down with my printed short story, lots of spare paper and a blue pen and went to town: changing, adding, crossing out and rewriting. In the end I think I kept maybe 5% of the original first draft, everything else had been drastically rewritten. I think the story is better now, but that still a lot of words that ended up deleted.

 

This also kind of scares me when I think about the 100k words 350 pages monster waiting for me in my desk drawer. If I have to rewrite my novel just as drastically, it will take me months to accomplish this.

Of Broken Things – first draft finished.

Last night, I crossed a very important milestone: I finished the first draft of the novel I had started in November 2013 for NaNoWriMo. For me, it is a huge accomplishment, because I have never actually finished anything before.

Sure, I have plenty of stories that I had started and abandoned after a couple chapters, when I got bogged down by plot inconsistencies, couldn’t see my characters clearly or had no clue where my story was going, or simply got bored and went off to write the next shiny new thing. But not this time. This time I stuck with it, through happy moments when words flew onto the page faster than I could write them down and moments when every single word seemed to cost an ounce of my own blood. I stuck with the story, with the characters and I brought it all to a satisfying conclusion.

The feeling is… exhilarating, electrifying and a bit scary. I have done it. I finished something. I proved to myself that I am a writer, that I can tell stories from beginning to the end. That’s the exhilarating part.

The scary part is that I am entering uncharted waters now. I have never finished a draft before, so I have no idea how to go about rewriting and editing it, and what steps to take to transform it into a book it deserves to be, a book that I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out into the world. It feels like standing at the entrance of a labyrinth with no map and knowing that you have to navigate through it to the other side. It’s kind of paralyzing.

So I need help and I need advice from everyone who has been in my shoes and had already tackled the editing hurdle. Where do I go now? How do I even begin?

Frist Drafts woes and wonders – rebelling characters.

Image

NaNoWriMo is over and done, but at the end of it I still had an unfinished story on my hands. So I had decided to keep up the good habits I picked up during November and write every day. I set my goal to 1200 words per day, which is about 800 words less than the mad rush of NaNo. I managed to stick to it so far, so my manuscript is now at 68k words and I would reach the end of Part 2 after one more chapter.

 This feels really good, to see this story finally taking shape on paper. I have never stuck with a story for so long and so consistently before. I have never written so many words before on one story either. The feeling is… exhilarating. If feels like an accomplishment. Even if my story is only two thirds done, even if I still have at least a long month of bleeding words on paper in front of me, I feel like having a small celebration. Like I passed a milestone or something.

But this is not what I wanted to discuss today. No, I wanted to talk about characters and all the marvelous things they do to advance your plot and sometimes totally mess up your carefully laid plans and nicely detailed outlines.

 When I wrote Part 1 of my novel during NaNo, my main character Aiden was a good sport and went along with almost everything I had planned for him. He rebelled only on the small details. So we really had a peaceful and productive collaboration during the month of November.

 Then I wrapped up Part 1 and moved to Part 2 which follows another character. I knew that I was in deep trouble from the get go. This character has a mindset very different from my own, so getting into his head and writing from his perspective was like reformatting my brain with a screwdriver – a slow and painful process. And as if to add to the suffering, he decided to fight me every step of the way. All my carefully-laid plans for Part 2? Out of the window. All the shiny scenes of romance and conflict I thought I would write? Scrapped and disposed of. He was having none of it. It was going to be his way or no way at all. So for fourteen chapters now I have been in a state of panicked wonder – how will he manage to change my plot this time?

 But you know what? I am just one chapter away from finishing his arc of the story and looking back at it, I must admit that what he did is much better, more in character than anything I had in mind.

 So my question to you all is how often do your characters rebel against your plans? Do you go along with them when they do? Does it turn out better when you do give them free reign or worse?