You’ve finally finished your first draft and you’re ecstatic. You should be! Many aspiring writers never get that far!
Go out and celebrate!
As many writers will tell you, take a break. Long enough to forget the little details. Week, two weeks. A month.
Then do a reread (without editing!)
Did you flip out at how much work you have to do? Are you staring at it, wanting to shove it under your bed and just forget about it permanently because it would be just too much work to fix?
You are not alone. Pantsers have this trouble more than plotters, but as Stephen King said ‘all first drafts are piles of %&^%^’ (or something like that).
Knowing that, though, and then wondering how the heck you’re going to tackle it is daunting. How you need to approach it is like a trauma surgeon in ER– tackle the crucial, bleeding parts and amputate/bandage as needed. No use polishing prose on stuff that will need to be cut. So how to analyze? Focus gobbling up any and all craft books on plotting and do the work that plotters actually do before they start to write. Basically, you’ve created a novel length outline/synopsis and now you need to create a structure. (Plotters, you can keep snickering. We know we’ve created more work for ourselves)
There are many things to do, but I will focus on one craft book today to illustrate. The book most people recommend is Blake Snyder‘s Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but I would like to focus on a successful fiction writer who applies the screenwriting tips to novels, Alexandra Sokoloff. She takes a lot of Snyder’s tips, but expands on them. One of her screenwriting tips is the use of 8 sequences, spread through the 3 Act structure. In the picture above, you’ll see my storyboard with colored stickies for each scene that I created after reading her book. The board itself is not only divided up into the 3 Act structure (with Act 2 divided in half) but also divided by sequences. Each sequence should have a climax too.
She has written two e-books on story structure: Screenwriting Tricks For Authors (and Screenwriters!) and Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II. I hate reading craft books on my Kindle, it’s just so cumbersome to me, but it’s the only version she currently has. I did ask her about print versions, and she’s hoping to have those available maybe by the end of the year. Anyway, if you’re a romance writer, you might want to skip the first book and just get Writing Love, as it’s the same as the first one, but expanded to include elements for love stories.
What I loved about the books, besides breaking up the traditional three-act structure into eight parts, is that she goes into more detail than Snyder on what elements need to be in place in each act. There’s also fun homework, like watching movies and seeing how, on cue, the sequence climax falls exactly where it should almost to the minute. In a 2-hour movie, the first sequence climax will be at the 15 minute mark, and then the Act One climax will be at 30 minutes, etc.
So, I made stickies on my board (blue for hero’s POV and pink for heroine’s) and then wrote down what happened and stuck them up on my new board (which I can now re-use for new WIPs). I then went over all of her elements to see if I was missing anything. Boy, was I! It really helped me pull it into shape big-picture wise, but it also helped me add subtle layers of subtext. Pictured here is a closeup of some stickies where I wrote the elements in all caps on the appropriate sticky.
I can’t say enough about how helpful this book was. There’s more to it than just this. She also delves into theme, and insuring you have a consistent thematic image system and how to engage readers with visual storytelling.
Her blog has all of it on there for free, if you’re short on cash, but I found it handier (Kindle still easier to absorb this stuff than clicking through web page links) to get the e-books.
How about you? Are you a pantser and do these things that plotters do when facing revisions? What’s your favorite craft book? Have you used Sokoloff’s tips?