A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Shitty First Drafts. Today I continue this series, which will include one or two more posts. The information I shared last time and will share for the rest of the series is taken from a workshop that I give at writers' conferences focusing on editing.
The second draft of a novel is when a writer should look at plot, structure, characters, and story elements. Is the book saying what you want it to say? Have you surprised the reader, or is the plot predictable? Is the ending a satisfactory conclusion to the story, or is it contrived? Have you taken the reader up to mountain peaks and down to valleys, or is the writing flat?
The essence of story is drama, and drama naturally flows out of action and reaction. Is that happening in your story?
Is your cast of characters appropriate? Are they interesting? Do they all add something to the story? Are they balanced throughout, or have you given secondary characters too much time?
Some writers, like Eileen Goudge, who’s written several books in a series set in Carson Springs, California have so many characters it is hard to keep track of them. When I reviewed one of her later books, A Wish Come True, I found sub-plots that didn’t always connect to the main plot. I think she made one of the basic mistakes series writers sometimes do, and that was to introduce the reader to the whole community in every story. Information about these characters was repeated almost every time one of them took the stage, which made for some ponderous reading in places.
I skip-read through parts of the book, and as an author, you never want to give your reader an opportunity – or a need – to skip read. Most readers who really love to read want to be able to savor the words as much as the story.
SHOW - DON'T TELL
We all start off with a lot more telling than showing and that's okay. It's part of the shitty first draft. To me, the biggest creative challenge comes in the second draft when we try to make the story come alive with active scenes and vivid details that draw the reader into our work.
Some people are better than others at first drafts, but most good books go through one or two complete rewrites.
Then, too, there are some that get published without the rewrite, and we wonder why. Which is why I advise clients not to necessarily pattern their writing after what they read.
I consider this weak writing: "I need a pain shot," she said with some difficulty. Her mouth was dry. (Robin Cook - MUTATION)
To me, this is much stronger: Dagget's anxiety threatened again. He felt boxed in. By the traffic. By this obese man sitting next to him. He could feel his hair turning gray. (Ridley Pearson - HARD FALL)
In the second example the reader is pulled into the moment and the character, feeling the anxiety with him.
Next up: The fish-cleaning approach to editing. Stay tuned.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services.