If you follow my Instagram, you know that I’m in the process of revising the first book of my White Library Series. It’s already gotten it’s first literary agent rejection! Truth be told, I know I queried too soon. I didn’t know how to properly write my query or do my research.
Lesson learned. Now, on to the lesson at hand.
Yes! It is time to celebrate because this can only mean one thing: you’ve finished the first draft! That’s a huge accomplishment. It might be a fat mess with plot holes and flat characters (speaking from experience here), but you did something that not everyone can say they’ve done.
Hell, you’ve accomplished something difficult. Taking a nugget of an idea from your noggin and trying to translate that to words in a digital document is a hefty task. So, brag all you want and toot as many horns as you can.
Because the party will be over soon. Tuck the draft away for a little while. This can be a few days, a week, a month even. Don’t forget about it, but you’ve earned a break. Stepping away can help you look at it with fresh eyes. You’ll see it for all of it’s flaws and that is a good thing.
Now, you have several options. To make it even fresher you can change the font, the font size, the line spacing, etc. These things make the words seem new to your eyes and help you better catch typos and the such. They happen.
After doing that, you can chose to print your draft and attack it viciously with red pen, or you can save a few trees and use the review feature of Microsoft Word to do something similar. I, personally, like to step away from the screen and choose to print my pages.
I will recycle them when I’m done, probably as kindling for my grill this summer. I can stand back and watch my manuscript BURN…..
Calm down, Leah. Back to the lesson.
Now, line by line (sorry, this is a long process), re-read what you’ve written. Strike out filler words such as THAT. Search for syntax that interrupts the flow of reading. Make sure that your scenes have continuity (that the characters don’t talk about something that you deleted in chapter five). And address plot holes and character arcs.
Every character should walk across the page with a secret and a desire. They may be one in the same, but they don’t have to. Along the story they will struggle with both as you, the writer, do you best to dangle the carrot before their face.
All the while, your character should start to show some kind of growth. All of the characters will, just at different rates. If you need to, make a chart of circumstances that will trigger character growth. Note when and how they change so that when you are revising, you know if a character is acting, well…, out of character.
I write my drafts out of order. That means that characters may not always be acting in the manner that they should at a certain point because I hadn’t realized there was a life altering event before. Maybe, I have them changing before the life altering event and I have to take my character a few steps back.
That’s fine. Just make sure there is a character arc of ups and downs that you and your readers can follow. It should be similar to your plot arc.
This will happen. It might be a single line inserted somewhere that gave EVERYTHING away (I totally deleted one this morning). Or, it could be something that you just can’t explain.
To fix this, create an outline. You have a general idea of what happens in every scene. Write those scenes down, leaving space before and after for notes. From here you can take a step back and see where things don’t add up.
Does someone magically appear to save the day? How? What were they doing that led up to their arrival? Fill that hole, even if the reader won’t see all of the filler on the page. You need that to know how the story will play out.
Use the space between your scenes to add in notes here and there, connecting loose threads and picking up lost lines.
This is a lot of work and it doesn’t have to be done then and there. Especially solving your plot holes and character arcs. Use post-it notes to quickly jot down discrepancies and keep going. You can later pull the post-it notes from the manuscript and look at what needs work all at once.
That is where revisions suck.
I can take a step back and look at this creation that I was once so freaking proud of. I thought it was the best thing to happen to YA literature. Now, I’m a little more down to earth and worry if it is any good at all.
No worries. This, too, is a crucial step in the process. No, really. I promise.
Here is where you can take that piece of crap and turn it into the book you once thought it to be. Fine tune those character arcs, bolster their dialogue and harness their secrets to your advantage. Double check to make sure all of your foreshadowing is cleverly woven into the story. Tighten and polish until you can’t anymore.
This may seem daunting. That’s right where I’m standing right as we speak. I’m overwhelmed with the work I think it still needs, with the slow and tedious process of maintaining continuity and character arcs. Where do I start? How do I do these things it needs?
One step at a time.
This will not kill you. Even if it feels like it!