Wednesday, July 3, 2013

That Second Look at Your First Draft

As I write this post, I am four days away from my self-set deadline for a first draft. I will make it. In honour of this yet-to-be-completed-but-will-be-damn-it accomplishment, I've written a post about the next step in the road toward publication. I'm hoping that reminding myself of past horrors will prepare me for taking this step again. After all, picking up any manuscript after its necessary absence from everyday sight is a brave act. One knows it isn't perfect. One knows there will be language to tighten or heighten, but then there are the errors that makes one wonder why one doesn't fall down more.

So here, (in no particular order...) are some of my past discoveries:

The main character's height changed.
He started off very tall and lost about 6 inches somewhere in the last third of the plot. I tried to logic out that he lost the height because he was tired and wanted the damn thing to end, but then I realized that that was me, not him.

I intended to drop a small but vital clue early in the story.
Intended is the operative word in the previous sentence. It was supposed to be one of those 'when you reread the story after reading the conclusion you are amazed at the author's craftiness' moments. Yeah. Truly tricky to pull off this moment when the clue's NOT THERE.

Inconsistent character names.
Yes, I knew about 'Search and Replace'. I used 'Search and Replace' many times. I have no explanation.

Rooms changed locations.
Unfortunately I was not writing about a magic house. Floor plan drawing ensued.

A character having favourite phrases.
I thought it would be endearing. I erred.

A wise character who never made a mistake.
I discovered this resulted in a character I yearned to hit over the head with a cast iron skillet - or trip as he was walking down a hall. I leant towards the former.

The rhythm of characters' dialogue changing during one scene.
It was as if they'd morphed into different people. Drat. I might have been able to keep it if the scene had been taking place during cocktails. It wasn't. And no, I couldn't move it there. 
The pace (usually somewhere in the middle) slowed to the speed of a sloth on a slow day.
Thought about throwing in another body. Thought about throwing in a cuddly monster. Ended up doing a combination of the two. (No, gentle reader, I did not insert a dead cuddly monster. That would be cruel.)

Scenes tipped over into melodrama.
Sometimes the line between drama and melodrama is whisker-thin. I tripped over more often than I care to admit.

A scene which took ages to write and I adored.
Unfortunately, it did nothing for plot or character development. Agony ensued. Scene did not.

Any writers out there care to share a similar moment?

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Antonelli, Author.


  1. Ah, Elspeth, how closely this hit to home! One of my favorite things is language and its ability to paint exquisite word pictures in the minds of readers. Fun as that is (for me), it often fails to move my story forward and no doubt falls into the category of "reader skippers."

    When I wrote my first novel, I incorporated a number of these wonderful (in my opinion) masterpieces. After the book had been completed and reviewed by several beta readers, I frowned at the hefty word count and began to slash. One scene, a particular favorite, exited the manuscript with a swish of highlighter, a single depression of the delete key, and some moments of mourning. As an editor, I can be ruthless when it comes to terminal verbosity. As a's not quite the same story.

    As for less-than-consistent details, those can creep in despite the best efforts to avoid them. Beta readers help to find these pesky errors, but a thorough read by the author after an enforced absence from the story is a major deterrent to having them glare at the reader from the pages of the published book. Don't forget the value of a professional editor and/or proofreader to eliminate this problem.

    Love this post. :-)

  2. I once forgot to have someone come back into the room after he had left. When new action ensued, he was magically back in the room ... eeek! No one seemed to notice, but I did. So now, I have a chapter break down of a few lines for each chapter and I earmark any sort of activity - going to the window (in case I suddenly have the character leaning back in his chair!), making coffee, eating a meal, picking up a book. It's amazing how we love to put in all this activity and then lose track of it. In my first MG adventure I had such a moving scene of life and death rescue. I loved this scene. It made me cry every time I read it. Imagine my horror when my editor red-lined it and said, "Half of this must go. Keep the action tight." Tight? Why would anyone want tight when you can have a lovely long wallow in lots of tear-jerking stuff. OK, I cut it in half.

  3. Loved your comment, Fiona! You and Elspeth both are lucky that your edits fall into the realm of "humor in retrospect"—at least your drafting process is entertaining!

    My forthcoming novel has interweaving story lines, in the past and present. At one point late in the game I made changes to the present story line, not thinking it would impact the thread in the past. Wrong. After saying that my book would one day be "important," an agent wrote in my rejection, "I just don't understand, on p. [whatever], why Dmitri would act that way." I looked up the reference. Sheez, I had no idea why he acted that way either!


    And an opportunity lost—while some agents will take another look after edits, this one does not like to do so, stating at a conference I attended, "It's hard enough to say no the first time. The second time it gets a lot easier. Send it off to one of the other thousand agents."

  4. I tend to read and re-read a manuscript so many times, that it all begins to blur. So, I usually create a Book Bible in order to catch glitches.

  5. Linda; "Kill Your Darlings" - it's always difficult, isn't it?

    Fiona; Thanks for sharing and I've had the same problems. I do the same sort of note-taking, now.

    Kathryn; Arrg! I feel your pain. Good for you, though, for seeing your manuscript with clear eyes.

    Helen; Why am I not surprised that you have it all under control?

  6. Excellent post! Some of mine:

    Character dresses for a picnic in her jeans but at the picnic her guy pal watches her rear in shorts.

    Character owns/drives a car (SUV) that morphs into a pickup truck.

    A guidance counselor is retired in one scene but working at the school in the another.

    Definitely had issues with name replacement AND referring to one character by another's name (happens with gal pals).

    Lots happens. Thank goodness for good proof readers!

  7. Donna; Thanks for sharing and yes, where would we be without first/second/third readers?

  8. I had one with a character who was pregnant past nine months, so I had to re-arrange the timeline.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. Absolutely why I need critique partners. They keep me from major mistakes. I dread the endless rounds of proofreading. Just when you think you've caught all the typos, more arrive to take their place. I swear they are breeding when you aren't looking. :)

  10. Yes, indeed! It's amazing what you don't notice until you've left your ms for awhile, or have someone else read through it! Good post, thanks.

  11. Morgan; My first thought was 'Is this character secretly an elephant?' Yes, this is the way my mind works. *sigh*

    Diana; Typos. ARRRRGGGG. I read the sentences backwards to try and catch more of the blighters.

    Heidi; It is amazing, isn't it? Some mistakes I realize as I'm writing and make notes to fix later, but many more slide right by.

  12. Talk about character names. It wasn't until I got the ARCs for a final read that I noticed the head of my "company", whose name is Horace Blackthorne was introduced the first time as Horace Blackstone, and it got by all the edits/editors.

  13. Oh, yes. Sarah was wearing slacks as she walked to work, but when Randy dropped by, he was checking out her legs when she tucked them up beneath her, while wearing a skirt. Nowhere had I given her the reason or opportunity to change clothes.

  14. Terry; I've had similar situations with a character's name and secret wardrobe changes. *sigh*

  15. Ho, we've all had those moments. The scene that took a week to write - and a moment to cut out, when I realized it went nowhere.

    The noble hero whose nobility was, in retrospect, emetic.

    The fragile heroine that someone should have strangled at the first drop of her handkerchief. And so on.

    Problem is, if we try to second guess our work as we write it, we'll write nothing. Or cut out all the bits that worked!

  16. I do the same, I read my sentences backwards to catch typos and such. I am going through my first draft now and I just cried like a silly baby when I had to cut scenes that I loved that just didn't work like I wanted, no matter what I did. boo hoo. I'm sure in a few drafts I'll be laughing that I cried over them.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.