If you’re planning to join me (and many others) for the March Revision At-Home Workshop, now’s the time to get that draft ready to take full advantage of the process.
We have three weeks to fill whatever holes in our manuscripts that are going to slow us down come March. This is all about finishing a not-quite-done-yet-draft—some of this prep work won’t even be in the manuscript itself, just information you might need to tighten and polish it later.
Prep work includes:
Finish (or write) those scenes you’ve been putting off
There are always one or two scenes I know I need to write, but never do write until I absolutely have to. The reasons for my reluctance vary from book to book, but it usually feels like “too much work” in some way. The first drafts of those scenes are nothing more than a few lines at the start, then a paragraph or two summarizing what I want them to do, then maybe a transition if I know how they end. I always tell myself, “I’ll fix it during revisions.” Well, revisions are here, so no more putting it off.
If you have any scenes like this, put your butt in the chair and just get them written. Even if they’re clunky and messy, at least they’ll be down on paper where you can fix them. And if they really, really fight you, maybe that’s a red flag you don’t need them after all (wouldn’t that be a relief?).
Finish the scenes or sections that require research
I have a lot of (notes) in my drafts, where I know I need to spend an hour or a day researching—maybe it’s the setting, a bit of history, career details for my characters, or even the proper way to summon a demon. Whatever it is, the scene has a lot of spots where that information is missing. It isn’t necessary for the plot, but it will make the scene richer and more plausible to have that information there.
Sound familiar? If so, time to buckle down and do that research. Try picking a day when you can focus—start at the first missing detail and take them one at a time until they’re done. At the very least, get the information you need written down in another file so you can easily add it in March.
(Here's more on making research easier)
Finalize your characters’ backstories
Since I’m a plot-first, character-second first-draft writer, there’s always a lot about my characters I don’t know when I start a book. I like to figure out who they are as I write them, which means their histories often change, or I’ll make them up out of whole cloth as needed. This can create a lot of holes and shallow characters who need some work during the second draft.
If you also have sketchy character backstories, go to your character files and flesh out any missing histories and defining moments for your characters. Now that the first draft is done, you should know who matters and who needs more oomph to refine their personalities or personal stories. You’ll also know what areas or details will add depth to the existing story and character arcs.
(Here's more on making backstory work for you)
Fix the parts you know are your personal trouble spots
Everyone has a problematic area in their writing. For me, I always rush the ending on a first draft because I’m ready to be done with the book. I don’t think I’ve ever written a novel that didn’t require a serious overhaul of the ending—it’s just part of my process. Since I know this is going to be one spot that will take more time during revisions, it’ll be helpful to deal with it now and get it into decent shape when I’m not facing a deadline (even if it is a self-imposed deadline).
If you have a known trouble spot, set aside a little time in the next three weeks to get it in line with the rest of the draft.
Decide on the final details or names
My critique partners laugh at me for my “creative” naming procedures. I’ve had Old Guy, Bad Dude, City, (Term)—just placeholders for people, places, and terms I need to finalize. While some of this falls under research, I think names are more their own thing. Sometimes we need to live with them a while before we can decide if they’re working or not. For example, in my current work, I’m worried the two male lead names might be too similar (Daniel and Nathan). I’ll most likely change Nathan to something that’s more visually different, as I think all those Ns make it hard to tell these two names apart.
If you have names you’re not sure about, now is a good time to change them so you can A) get used to the new ones, and B) change them again if you still don’t like them.
(Here's more on naming characters)
Do what you know needs doing
You know your own process and novel, so if there’s anything you feel is going to take additional time or effort, go ahead and do some work on it ahead of time. Maybe you know you’re not happy about the setting, or you wanted to add more symbolism, or you feel it needs a subplot—whatever is nagging at you, give in and do it.
A lot of holes can be filled in three weeks, especially when you have the freedom to just fill and not worry about how messy the thing looks. As one of my favorite authors once said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” We’ll focus on getting it right next month.
What holes will you be filling this month?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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