Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan
Finishing that first draft of your first novel is a genuinely splendid moment in a writer’s life. Enjoy it while it lasts. Because once your hard-earned champagne is drunk, another, less happy mood is likely to take its place.
It’s called ‘terror,’ and it can be summed up in five words (more, with appropriate expletives): “What the blanketty blank do I do now!?”
The answer to that Cri de Coeur involves a number of useful terms which most any writer at that point of experience already knows. But all of which, you now learn, require more detailed instruction:
- Tighten: To remove unnecessary modifiers:
- Trim: To remove unnecessary phrases.
- Prune: To remove unnecessary sentences or paragraphs.
- Cut:: To, remove unnecessary scenes, or characters, or subplots.
- Unnecessary: Anything that doesn’t advance the story.
- Fix weak verbs: To replace verb+adverb [walked quickly] with stronger verb [hurried]
- Edit: All the above, plus whatever else your book might need.*
“Wait. Hold on,” I hear someone saying. “That word, just before ‘edit’. Structure? It makes it sound like you’re building something.”
Good for you!
Structure is the thing that gives your novel shape, that arranges the logical, carefully planned, tension-building and ultimately tension-relieving chain of events that keeps your reader flicking (or clicking) through the pages till half-past late-for-work.
There are several useful structures to choose from:
The basic 3-Part structure: [1) beginning, 2) middle, 3) end]
The 5-Act structure (Shakespeare liked this one): [1)exposition, 2) complication or rising action, 3) first climax or crisis, 4) resolution or falling action, 5) final climax and resolution.]
The 7-Act structure: like the 5-Act structure but with an extra climax and an extra falling action in the middle, Obviously it makes a somewhat different diagram!
The Six-Act Two-Goal structure: where the protagonist achieves the initial goal, finds that it isn’t adequate to the need, and sets out to achieve a better one
Oh yes, and The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. You’ll want to read this one for yourself.
And there are many more.
It does take some effort to get the best results from any of these structures, as well as from the other tasks I’ve mentioned. Fortunately the details are easy to find. Just Google the general topic or question, or ask at your nearby library or bookstore, to find all the sources you need.
Of course, once you have all that down pat, along comes the correcting and refining and polishing and beta reading, and correcting and polishing some more. That’s what the rest of the drafts are for.
But don’t despair.
There is a legend — and I’ve spoken to several writers who swear it’s true — that beyond all that toil and struggle, when your book is finally on its way into the world to wreck the work habits of readers everywhere, finishing that last draft is even more delicious than the first.
*World building, character development, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc, etc all those other necessary things that never get done well enough in the first draft.
Additional image credits:
The Hero’s Journey