Its been a thrilling, tortuous and questionable journey, but you’ve finally made it. Your protagonist is walking off into the sunset with their sidekick, love interest or deepened sense of self, and you’ve typed the two most satisfying words ever: The End.
Only it’s not really the end. It’s more like, five metres in front of the start line, and no-one gave you a map, and you’ve never been on this running track before, and the other competitors have already left so you can’t even follow that slow guy, and some prick stole your sneakers…
Don’t worry, you’ll find your way eventually and when you do cross the finish line, I’ll hand you our complimentary members’ pack, including whiskey, band-aids, pens and Grammarly discount code. Well, you would have received this pack if it weren’t for the endless cuts to Australian arts funding. Hopefully, that situation improves before you begin work on book two…but it probably won’t.
Seriously though, finishing your first draft is an amazing feat and you should be proud. Some people spend years (sometimes a lifetime) talking about their “project,” the masterpiece they never actually started, but you are not that person. And for that, you should be very very happy.
First drafts are not books.
I know. Fucking sucks, right?
But easy isn’t easy, it’s boring. Lucky for you — little writer daredevil that you are — there ain’t nothing boring about redrafting… in other words… this stage can be a little…challenging. For this week’s blog, I’m breaking down the five steps you can take when approaching a major redraft.
Write the novel’s outline
If you’re a plotter, and you actually stuck to your original outline, then you get to skip this step (lucky bitch). All you pantser and pretend plotters, follow me.
Pull out your manuscript, grab a fresh piece of paper and go through your novel from start to finish. Unless your book is a novella, this may take a couple of sittings. Using each chapter as a heading, write down the setting, characters, POV, significant events, plot beats and emotional highlights that occur in that chapter.
June 1, 1990, Brisbane airport, Cindy (POV) and Blake
- Passengers are boarding, Cindy cries while saying goodbye to Blake
- Blake can’t find his plane ticket, stewardess refuses to let him onboard
- Blake storms to the service counter
- Cindy pulls the ticket from her coat pocket and throws it in the bin
(I set this example in 1990 so no-one would say, “Ah, couldn’t Blake have just opened his Qantas app and used a digital ticket?” Oh, technology, you dirty little plot killer.)
You can make the outline as simple or as detailed as you prefer. Personally, I like to keep it simple so I can read each chapter at a glance and easily have a bird-eye view of the book as a whole. If you’ve been working on your project for a few years or if you haven’t revisited particular chapter/s in a long time, you may prefer to do a more detailed outline.
Grab three different coloured highlighters and designate one colour for emotion, one for action and the final for plot (for example, yellow for emotion, green for action and orange for plot).
Go through the dot points below each chapter heading and highlight each point with its corresponding colour. Once you’ve gone through the whole outline, you may notice successive action heavy chapters, or maybe you have multiple chapters were characters are talking amongst themselves but there’s no action. Maybe 70% of your police procedural is emotion or 80% of your romance is plot driven…which is kind of impressive…anyway, the point is, now you can see your novel.
Obviously, you don’t want three or four chapters to be dominated by emotion, but pure action isn’t the solution either. Your novel should be a combination of light and shade. Back-to-back chapters that detail your protagonist’s ponderings over what it means to be human may move some readers, but others may find this kind of thematic pounding heavy-handed. At the same time, endless action scenes can be tedious, and a poorly constructed one can read like a cheap trick; a way to inject tension into an otherwise dull scene.
Look for plot holes
While you were skimming through your manuscript, and constructing this nifty little outline, you probably discovered a couple of plot holes. Jot down the contradictions and inconsistencies you’ve come across and be sure to note down the pages where this story thread appears. That way, when you do come up with a solution, you’ll know which pages you need to start working on. Before you start hacking your manuscript into pieces, let’s pause for a moment and do a little interior resetting…
Get in the right mindset
Remember the first time you had a really awesome writing day? I do. One day, about four years ago, I wrote 6,000 words across an eight hour period (this wasn’t achieved in one sitting). Back then, my normal daily word count was 1,000 fresh words, so the addition 5,000 was a huge leap. I remember hitting my normal word count thinking, “Yup, I’m done.” I hit save and went about other tasks, but the story wasn’t done, ideas, scenes, and dialogue kept coming. If there’s one thing I know for sure, when the Muse shows up, don’t ignore her! So, I went back to the computer and I kept writing.
Normally, I’d be exhausted by such a massive writing session, but that day, I was totally stoked. Not only did I feel the deep satisfaction of a wildly productive day, I’d had fun too.
Though I’d produced 6,000 new words, my total word count was about 25,000. If a psychic had rocked up to my door that day and told me all that would come over the next four years, I’d probably have given up then and there.
Here a brief recap: my word count crept up to 80,000 words over the course of a year, then I cut 20,000 words off the beginning, then I enrolled in a Masters program and cut a further 20,000 words. Then I decided to make a major character a different gender, two new characters were introduced, the word count slowly crept from 40,000 to 80,000 words, a chapter from the middle became chapter one and the structure changed from a group of strangers coming together to build a community to a family drama about grief.
Maybe there’s a reason we can’t see the future?
The point is, it’s hard to eat a whole cake in one sitting. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to write a good book, but if you keep at it and do a little each day, then you will make progress. If I quit on that day four years ago, I wouldn’t have a book now. So, do your best not to get overwhelmed. See these changes as small individual to-dos rather than a gigantic laundry list that has to be completed by day’s end.
Once you’ve made a note of all your manuscript’s “problems,” it’s time to move onto the final step.
Constructing a tidy little plan to tackle all those plot holes sounds very efficient and action orientated, but that’s not how this stage works.
While you may be able to iron out the crinkles in your manuscript within minutes of seeing them, chances are, there will be some bigger and tricker plot holes that require a little more effort. Fixing plot holes can be hard. Tweaky a story thread may fix the contradiction that occurs on page 50, only to create a new one on page 120. You may need to do some serious rewriting or restructuring. If that’s the case, you want to be pretty committed to the changes you want to make before you make them!
Take your time, but don’t take too long.
Thinking about writing is very different to actually writing. You may wake up one night with a miraculous solution to THAT plot hole, but when you try to stitch that thread into your manuscript the following day, the seams won’t hold. You can’t make your protagonist do that thing or maybe the new story thread reads as wooden or inauthentic or maybe your solution seems a little easy, obvious or convenient. It may take several attempts and rewrites to fix major plot holes, so don’t beat yourself up. Again, writing is different to thinking and sometimes the only way to know whether or not something will work is to give it a try.
Writing is largely problem-solving, but solutions rarely come easy. If you sit down with a clean piece of paper and a pen in hand with the intention of nutting out fresh solutions to all your plot holes, you’ll probably hear crickets. More often than not, solutions arrive when you are out doing other things and engaging in the mundane activities of life. You don’t have to be actively thinking about your novel all the time, but you should hold a space for it in the back of your mind because you never know when a solution will appear. If and when you get a new idea, write it down, try it out in the manuscript and see if it works.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, remember that writing isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. If you quit today, then that really is The End. If you keep going, then one day those two magical words will appear on the final page of your manuscript.
Do you enjoy the redrafting phrase? Are there any tips or strategies that have helped you in the past? If so, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about it!
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