I’m currently working through the second draft of the second novel. The problem is that when I read the first draft I actually liked it. I didn’t have massive rewrites for this one.
Which means that I need to be especially vigilant. Because if I’m too sold on the story I’m telling then I’m not in the proper editorial frame of mind.
With the first novel that was definitely not the case. (I hated it.) I had to tighten up some characters (combining a few separate people into one), add at least one subplot, and synchronize the timeline since I was juggling three character arcs. It was a massive rewrite. The issues were obvious.
This one’s trickier. Yesterday I actually put together a spreadsheet listing every scene in the novel so I could see in data what I wasn’t seeing in my reading. It’s a somewhat weird format I’ve adopted for the story – alternating first person conversation where the protagonist is talking to the narrator/someone who knows the story and then limited third person with the protagonist as the focus.
I had a feeling that I had dropped some of the first person scenes towards the end and I was able to see that when I created the spreadsheet. I was also able to see that I needed more background description since there were scenes when I couldn’t say where they were happening other than “in the car” or “in a restaurant.”
This is the problem (for me, at least) with writing a first-person story that’s about what’s happening between the two main characters rather than what’s happening in the world around them. I lose the setting and then when I re-read the story I get caught up in the interaction between the two characters and fail to see that there’s no setting.
I think this one’s also going to be a challenge in terms of voice and slipping into too informal a writing style because that’s the way the character speaks. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have to rely on my betas to help with that issue once it’s ready for that. (The character also cusses a fair bit and I’m not sure just how much she can get away with before it offends readers. My betas will let me know.)
So, my personal thoughts are: If I like the first draft of a story then I need to be hyper-critical of everything in that story. Because chances are the story is engaging me too much and I’m missing any issues with writing craft. It’s possible that readers will overlook any craft issues as well if they get caught up in the story, too, but better to have an engaging and well-written story than just an engaging story.
And, to help anyone else out who might be in the editing phase, a few links:
Meddling or Editing by Patricia C. Wrede
This post is more about later stages of editing, but it seemed a good time to share it. And this comment makes me smile:
“It is not meddling when an editor covers a page in little red circles and writes at the bottom: ‘You have seventeen semi-colons on this page, and that seems to be about average. Does your husband know about this love affair?”'”
Plot AND Characters also by PCW
A good time to check for that balance (to me) is in the second draft.
“When a writer gets too focused on one thing, be it characters or plot, they tend to forget to think about the interaction between the two, and they end up with something like chocolate-covered-garlic or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream: mixing two things that would be fine on their own, but that really don’t work together very well.”
Last, but not least, Twenty-One Tips to Make Your Book Better, for new writers by Sophia McDougall
It’s a good list. And funny. So read it. And even though it has a SFF bias, some of the items on the list (like 19 and 20) should apply to any book anywhere.