Writing the Second Draft
New writers are often encouraged not to worry about editing themselves when they first sit down to put words on paper (or on computer screen). The first draft is “the vomit draft,” they are told. Just get it down, that’s the important part. Let the words flow, write down whatever it is that comes in to your head, just keep going till you get to the end. Then put the work in a drawer (some kind of metaphysical computer drawer) for a few weeks or months, so you can edit it with a clear head. Or something like that.
The problem with this advice, as good as it may be, is that it assumes two very important things: One, that writers are able to recognize problems with their own writing simply by putting the work away for a few weeks, and, two, that writers will be able to come up with solutions to those problems and make those necessary changes.
Friends, those tasks are a lot harder than they sound. There’s a reason that publishing houses employ professional editors; there’s a reason indie writers are strongly encouraged to hire freelance editors; there’s a reason that even professional Hollywood screenwriters are often kicked off of projects that began in their own head. I’m not saying this to scare you away. I’m telling you this because if you’re at the editing stage, and you’re feeling stuck – that your book is possibly the worst thing ever written in the history of man – it’s completely natural. (If you think your first draft is perfect right down to the semi-colon on page 173, that’s an issue as well.) It’s probably not as bad as you think, but you’re right – it’s not ready to be evaluated by agents or publishers, or uploaded to Amazon if you’re going directly indie. (Even indie authors are obligated to make their work the best it can be.)
I highly advise you to hire a freelance editor once you’re convinced you can’t make the work any better on your own. Before that step – or in lieu of it, if you’re short of funds – try to get as many beta readers as possible to read the book and offer constructive feedback. You don’t have to listen to everything that everyone says, but if a few of the readers are saying the same thing, that’s advice you should probably take.
Before that, though, you do need to take a crack at the manuscript on your own, as frightening as that may sound. Where to start? It’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint the exact problems in our own work. Often, we read it and are left with the disquieting feeling that something’s wrong, that things need to be changed, but clueless about exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. Fortunately, like happy families, problems in works of fiction tend to fall along similar lines. Here are the obvious things to check for and fix when evaluating your first draft:
- The story is too episodic. Your protagonist has a goal, and the novel is the story of the steps she took to reach the goal. Either she wants to better her life, or she’s experienced an upheaval and just wants things to get back to normal (or a little better.) Each plot point gets her closer or further from her goal. In an episodic novel, however, the protagonist doesn’t have a goal. Things happen for no particular reason; events are disconnected from each other. Some plot points can be removed completely without affecting the end of the book. (It’s okay to have sub-plots, but they are called sub-plots for a reason… they need to impact the main plot.)
How to fix this: Tape this sentence onto your laptop: My protagonist wants X, but Y keeps getting in her way. Then do a strong rewrite to strengthen everything that deals with X and Y but jettisons all the other letters in the alphabet. Yes, this is a heavy, frustrating rewrite, but you’ll have a better book as a result.
- Your protagonist is passive. This can be a difficult one to diagnose, because passive in this case doesn’t mean inactive. Is your protagonist in charge of her own life, or does she just react to things around her? Some degree of reacting is inevitable, but referring to the point above, your protagonist has a goal. She must take actions to achieve that goal. If all the actions are happening to her – she wins the lottery; she’s chosen at random to be a Bachelor contestant; a Hollywood agent plucks her from a drugstore stool – she is a passive character. Your heroine has to act and set in motion the things that happen in her life.
How to fix this: Rearrange events so that she acts to make them happen. Maybe she follows home that Hollywood agent and blackmails him; maybe she bribes a Bachelor producer. This fix isn’t really that tough – once you develop an eye for seeing what’s active and what’s passive behavior, it’ll become a habit.
- The narration violates the rules of point of view. Briefly, if you’re writing in first person, your narrator can’t describe events that happened when he wasn’t there or thoughts of people other than him. This is also true for third person that is limited to the protagonist. The most complicated point of view is when the writer decides to include several characters’ view points. If you chose to do this, please check out a book that describes how. It’s too easy for your book to end up a confusing mess of different characters shouting for their stories to be heard.
How to fix this: The easiest way to avoid this problem is to write in first person from your protagonist’s point of view. If you must have more than one protagonist, alternate chapters and points of view. Never switch point of view in a paragraph.
- Your supporting characters are unbelievable. Supporting characters are the stars of their own lives. They don’t know they are trapped in a book about someone else. Too often newbie writers create supporting characters – the mom, the best friend – that exist solely to give the protagonist advice. This leads to boring, conflict-free scenes.
How to fix this: Create a compelling life and back story for these characters. These events don’t necessarily have to make it into the book, but they will enrich the character. And have them disagree with your protagonist, often and vehemently. Conflict is the backbone of a scene, not coffee and a sympathetic shoulder.
- Your tone is inconsistent. In today’s publishing climate of genre-mixing, just about everyone is adding comedy or horror or salsa to a standard women’s fiction drama. Comedy, it seems, is the most popular seasoning, and the most difficult to mix in with heavier fare. Sometimes a person is making jokes when they fear for their life and it works because that’s the character’s defense mechanism; other times it just comes off as strange. Janet Evanovich can have Stephanie Plum cracking wise when her car blows up, but it’s a challenging skill for the rest of us to develop.
How to fix this: The easiest fix is to keep your comedies funny, your tragedies tragic, your dramas dramatic and your mysteries mysterious. If your main character insists on being funny, be strict about making sure that humor does not leak into the narrative voice.
Keep these points in mind while you go through your first draft. Read it quickly, take notes but don’t start making changes until you have a plan in mind. Everything’s easier with a plan.
But wait… I didn’t say anything about proofreading, finding typos, copy editing, sentence structure, or the serial comma. Please don’t worry about any of those issues until you’re ready to tackle your very last draft. There’s no point in worrying whether a sentence takes a comma or a semi-colon if you switch points of view three times in the same paragraph.
Remember, someone once said that writing is rewriting. Then they crossed out the last word and changed it to “editing.” There are people who think the editing stage is actually easier than the writing (the words are already there!) and people who’d rather chuck the whole thing and start over with a new story.
Finish your project. Dive in and do the hard work. Not only will your writing be better for it, but that sense of accomplishment will carry forward to other aspects of your life.
KEEPING SCORE is in sale this week for 99 cents!
When her son wanted to play travel baseball, Shannon Stevens had no idea the worst competition was off the field…
When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it’ll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it’s the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon’s life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn’t fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon’s best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town’s best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there’s no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints.
And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints’ coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn’t think her son was good enough for his team … especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon’s ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it’s not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game… it’s all about KEEPING SCORE.
About Jami Deise…
A lifelong resident of Maryland, Jami Deise recently moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, along with her husband Tom, son Alex, and dog Lady. A baseball mom for over 10 years, “Keeping Score” is her first novel. Jami is an associate reviewer at www.chicklitcentral.com and a generalist reader for an NYC-based literary agency. Along with women’s fiction, she loves all things horror and watches too much TV.
Keeping Score is on sale for 99 cents this week!
on Amazon (Kindle/paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E6GHQYM
on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/340759