Tips, Writing

Write the Novel: The First Complete Rewrite

We did it! Finished draft zero, the unfinished manuscript. Wrote all the way to The End, -30-, or Finished, whatever our choice of ending words were.

The first thing to do is celebrate because we’ve beaten the odds. Most people who say they want to write a novel never start. Most people who start, never finish. We’ve overcome tremendous odds by having a finished manuscript.

The second thing to do is to start the first complete rewrite. An unfinished manuscript, draft zero, is the skeleton. The first complete rewrite, which I call draft one,  is where we add muscle to the story. Here’s what most important in a first rewrite.

  • What we don’t write doesn’t exist.
  • We can not assume that readers knows the characters’ emotional reactions, unless we as the author, tell them what that emotion is.
  • We need action, reaction; action, reaction over and over. Create conflict, disaster, or micro-tension on each page.
  • Resist the urge to hurry: stay in the scene from second to second, from goal to disaster.
  • Layer in active voice sentences, strong verbs, dialogue, body language, leftover emotions from a previous scene, sensory texture.

I’m trying something new with this blog. Go here for an attachment that demonstrates a draft zero version of a scene; the same scene with critique comments added; and then a first draft rewrite, based on the comments. Feel free to print this for future use, if you find it helpful.

Note that the rewrite is about 45% longer than the zero draft skeleton. Here are two things that happen with length between the zero and first drafts

  • Outcome #1: word count stays about the same, but the quality of words increases tremendously. What’s happened here is that we’ve tightened our word budget. We’re now spending words only on essential items.
  • Outcome #2: word count increases by 33% to 50%. Not only is our budget tighter, but we’ve given ourselves a bigger budget to work with.
  • It’s all good.

Next week, I’m starting a six-part blog mini-series on key elements needed to write a fantastic first draft. Those six elements are using body language as a replacement for adverbs; stop telling, start showing; avoid perfectly nice syndrome; distill down to the essence; build better segues; and using violence as dialog.

Next Tuesday, July 8, we’ll start with WBL: what body language represents the action we’re trying to describe?

Two days from now, on July 3, I’ll be back with Level Thinking: Slow News Packs a Wallop.

Hope to see you again soon.