First Drafts And Other Considerations

Why You Must Rewrite: Because you won't get published if you don't. OK. OK. Because fiction writing is an act of the subconscious consciously crafted into art. Put another way, let your innards tell your outards where you ought to go.

Innermost Secrets Revealed!

Here's an example of what I mean

You have the following dream: all your teeth fall out. You weep with distress. Other people, some of them specific people, stare at you with distaste.

First, put your mind at ease, you wake up and all your teeth are exactly where they were when you went to sleep. So, this dream is your subconscious telling you something, but being your subconscious, it doesn't come right out and say (something like) Hey, Carolyn! You're so worried about what other people think you're freaking out! The meaning of this dream will, of course, be different for everyone, but the whole thing's a waste of a REM cycle if you don't consciously think about what it means to you.

Professor Plum in the Conservatory!

It works this way with a first draft, too. A first draft contains clues to where you ought to go. Your outline, synopsis, character sketches, chronologies, etcetera are the elements your subconscious is mining while you're writing that first draft. You are not yet aware of the stronger theme lurking in the background. You haven't yet admitted that your heroine is really a Very Nice Person because your synopsis calls for a sassy flirt and by golly, you're sticking with it! More sass please!

Oh. Colonel Mustard In the Kitchen?

Here's what happens when you don't listen for the clues: You have 500 pages of MS that follow your outline to the letter. You have a truly sassy flirt for a heroine and the whole darn thing makes a nice doorstop because your hero just isn't the kind of guy who goes for sassy flirts. He prefers a Really Nice Person.

So Who's Running The Show?

Your characters. With careful and attentive rewriting you bring out all the stuff your subconscious was telling you about the people in your story. Adjust to that, and your characters will become more and more realistic and pretty soon, they are real.

How To Find the Clues

Like this: You're reading your first draft. Yup, sassy heroine. Good. Exactly what your character background tells us she is. Everything's fine because this is what the outline said should happen right here. Hey, you say to yourself as you read the next part, Geneva's a really nice person. Gee, too bad. That's not in her character background and it's certainly not in the outline. So, do you rewrite this part and make her sassier? No. Why not? Because this is a CLUE!

Why is this a clue? Because right there you were thinking about Geneva the person. Not Geneva the character. And that, my friend, is the kind of writing that gets you published.

I've Got a Clue. Now What?

First, you trust yourself. Geneva is not just a sassy flirt. She's a really nice person. You must explore what this means for your story. The outline calls for a scene where Geneva acts like a sassy flirt with the hero. But, as you've just learned, Geneva is a really nice person. What you need instead is a scene where Geneva is really nice to the hero.

Ouch. That Hurts

Now you must wield the writer's scalpel. You must rewrite. You must cut the scene where Geneva is being a sassy flirt. Probably all of it. 2000 words gone, possibly more. In fact, you probably have to rewrite everything you've written so far in order to accommodate the truth: Geneva is a nice person. 50,000 words gone. If this is daunting, and it is, think in smaller chunks. Think, opening. Fix the opening. The reward is awesome. (Royalty checks!) Plus rewriting the middle is easier after you've just made the opening so much better.

Round Pegs. Square Holes

Don't stress because you're not following the outline. You conceived your story (and perhaps wrote an outline) before your characters were fully realized. You'll have a much easier time if you adapt your story to the characters you're discovering. Otherwise, you'll just keep trying to fit your characters into a story doesn't belong to them. The characters are round pegs. Your story is a square hole. Creating real characters is hard, it's voodoo and magic and so extremely delicate that it's better to change the shape of the hole.

[ back to top ]