You have finished your first draft, successfully taken your characters from the opening pages through several disasters, and given them a smashing conclusion. You wrote “the end,” so now you’re finished! Time to upload it to Amazon and wait for the accolades to roll in.
STOP! If you value your reputation, you won’t rush to publish that mess just yet.
In my previous post, I outlined the stages of book construction using a traditional phased method of project management.
- The Concept. Make a note of that brilliant idea. Write it down, so you don’t forget it.
- The Planning Phase is where I create an outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
- The Construction Phase—write the first draft from beginning to the end.
- Monitoring and Controlling—For writers, this is actually a continuation of step three, a part of the construction phase. This is where you build quality into your product. If you are an outliner, this phase might go smoothly.
- Create a style sheet as you go. See my post on style sheets here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.
- Find beta readers among your writing group and heed their concerns in the rewrites.
- Take the manuscript through as many drafts as you must to have the novel you envisioned.
- Employ a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
- Find reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)
- Completion or Closing.
As you can see, when you write “the end” at the bottom of the last page, you have only completed the development and initial construction phase of this project.
Now you must set it aside, as you must gain a little distance from it to see it with a clear eye. This is where I seek an outside opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of my proto-novel. I am fortunate to have a local writing group of highly talented published authors. I also trade services with several editors. When the first draft of my manuscript is finished, I send it to a reader. While they are reading it, I work on something completely different.
You must ask your reader to look for and point out weaknesses. You need to know where you’ve over-explained, what needs to be expanded upon, and if the story has a satisfying conclusion. At this point, your manuscript needs line editing, but the first reader must understand that you aren’t at that stage yet. Beta readers must be able to look beyond those flaws and see the story as a whole.
Authors are thin-skinned. We are full of expectations that all readers will enjoy it and tell us how stellar it is. You must be prepared for your manuscript to come back with some critical observations. I have felt the sting and burn of honest criticism and was utterly crushed.
I had to put on my big-girl undies and grow up.
The real work begins when we get the first reader’s assessment back, and it isn’t what we thought we would hear.
If you had a conscientious reader, they noticed those massive info dumps. You know the ones, the long paragraphs of backstory we write to explain things.
Hopefully, your reader is familiar with your genre and knows about features such as horses, medicine, or police procedures. If so, they may tell you that more research is required.
Sometimes, the feedback we get means that we now have to completely rethink what we thought was the perfect novel.
At this point, an amateur decides the beta reader missed the point and chooses to ignore their comments. Our unrealistic belief that our work is perfect as it falls from our minds is a failing that we must overcome if we want to engage readers.
When you have received your manuscript back with the reader’s comments, it’s time to begin the second draft. This is the area of construction where we straighten out confusing passages and make positive changes by adding or cutting scenes. We begin to add depth to our novel.
In my current manuscript, several areas were identified that needed attention.
First, my reader liked the overall story and found the characters engaging. However, she felt I hadn’t explored their relationships well enough to show their growing attraction. The eventual pairing seems to come out of nowhere. That relationship lacked depth.
Also, she pointed out where I had missed an excellent opportunity to inject real tension into the midpoint crisis. She also felt a lack of tension in the final pages.
In other words, the story lacks depth and tension at this point in its development. The work isn’t done; it’s only just begun.
This is where the intelligent author puts her reader’s observations to work. I took Alison’s comments to heart and considered the midpoint crisis. A solution presented itself, turning the story on its head. By doing that, an opportunity to make the final confrontation more perilous presented itself.
I added two chapters and trimmed back three. I slightly changed how the characters interact initially, making their mutual attraction a sub-thread that gradually grows from the moment when Character Two enters the story.
This novel tells the origin of an artifact that will be a strong thread in this series, but it is more focused on the internal battles we fight as part of the human condition. Each of us experiences emotional highs and lows in our daily lives. I must bring forward a specific layer of depth, the deep-rooted, personal reason for the emotions I want to portray.
Reactions must have a cause, something to react to. Depth can be instilled by adding a few well-chosen words, a sentence or two to show a flash of memory, a sensory prompt that a reader can empathize with.
In my current work, the thoughts and motives of the characters are critical to the midpoint event and subsequent crisis of faith. Yes, who these people are, and their place in the story at the point where we meet them is crucial to the plot.
But the plot is only the surface. Below the surface, lending substance to the narrative, lies the layer of inference and implication. This layer conveys a sense of solidness, of complexity.
This layer must be handled deftly because you want the reader to feel like they have earned the information they are gaining. Yet, you must leave enough clues lying around that they can understand what you are implying. Readers can only extrapolate knowledge from information the author has offered them.
Depth is a vast word, considering that it consists of only five letters. Depth is complexity, intensity, and profoundness. These qualities are shown when each character’s sub-story is built upon who these characters think they are.
On Monday, we will take a closer look at some ways to build depth into the interactions of our characters.