Today, we are delighted to welcome Jane O’Reilly to Romaniac HQ. Jane’s been managing without a P …
So you’ve (almost) finished nanowrimo – now what?
If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve most probably heard of Nanowrimo. It’s kind of like Movember for writers – instead of facial hair, Nanowrimo involves growing a book. Fifty thousand words, written during November, cut and pasted into the Nanowrimo site which will, once you reach that milestone, declare you a winner.
So you have your 50K words. Or maybe a few more (or maybe a few less). But what to do with them now? Having been on a tight deadline which required me to have not just 50K words, but 50K polished and ready-to-send-to-an-editor words by the end of November, I thought I would talk about my personal process of moving from a first draft to a finished story.
This started for me back in October, when I was asked to write 2 25K erotic romance novellas with a fairly tight turnaround (5 weeks). I had plotted the first, had no idea about the second, and had no written words of either. I got to work and wrote a lot of sex scenes in a very short space of time. Some of them were weird. But we won’t talk about that. More disturbing was the weekend I spent on writing retreat in Devon (with lots of other lovely writers) when the P on my laptop decided to stop working. For the first 5 thousand words of the second novella, my hero had an enis. It was distressing for both of us.
By 19th of November, I had my first drafts of both novellas. Phew. After a couple of hours of recovering from the weeks of panicking that I wouldn’t get those done in time, it was time to start panicking about revising them in time. This is a different sort of panic. It’s not a blank page, I have so much to do panic, more of a what if the story is insane panic. The only solution is to open up the document and read it, preferably somewhere private. People tend to think you’re a bit strange if they see you talking to yourself and crying. We’re often told to take a break from a manuscript before revising it, but my experience has been that if a draft is left for any length of time, it is very difficult to go back to, especially if you have started a new more exciting project. And once you’re on deadline, you won’t have that option. By all means leave it, but for a couple of days. Not for a couple of months (which can all too easily become years).
For anyone who has never revised a draft before, I’d like to start by saying this: revising is more than fixing typos. You do have to fix typos, don’t get me wrong – but a draft isn’t finished when that job is done, and it should be low down on your list of priorities. The first step, for me anyway, is to check that the three act structure is in place. At this point in my writing career, I am definitely a plotter. I didn’t start out as one, primarily because I didn’t know how to plot, but now it is vital. I write to the following structure – ordinary world, inciting incident, turning points 1, 2 and 3 (with a midpoint change that needs to occur exactly half way through the book), high point, black moment, darkest moment and climax. I also try to have the end of the book mirror the beginning as much as possible (so in the first of the two novellas, the book opens at a wedding, with the hero catching the heroine doing something she shouldn’t. It ends with the hero and heroine doing that something at their own wedding). Got all that? Good. If the idea of 3 act structure is new to you, I suggest taking a look at The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. (Yes, it’s a tome. Yes, it’s worth it.) Alternatively, if you can get yourself on one of her courses, get the lovely Julie Cohen to explain it to you.
As well as a rough plan for the turning points, I also have a fairly good idea of what the book is about (the theme) and some sort of logline worked out before I begin, so that I know the conflict is enough to sustain the story. (For more on this, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain are both useful).
Even with a plan, however, it is still possible to take a wrong turn. Fix the structure first, and everything else will follow. Making sure the structure is right and that I have all the right scenes in the right order takes me through a second draft. Each of those scenes and the sequel that follows on from it also has to have structure – a character must enter a scene with a goal and fail to achieve it, and in the sequel that follows, the character must rethink and set a new goal. (For anyone looking for help with scene structure, I would recommend reading Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham.)
The third draft involves making sure all the back story is coherent. You know, how the hero was her neighbour at the start of the draft and he was her best friend’s brother by the end. All those threads have to be tied together so that as you move from scene to scene, there is strong internal consistency. I also fix other inconsistencies I find along the way, like random changes of clothing and position, dialogue that doesn’t make sense, and the best friend who started out as Charlotte and ended up as Dave. Random animals have to be removed, together with any unnecessary Star Wars references and/or enises. At this point, I can also start to see where I’ve repeated myself and decide which bits to cut and which to keep. (Saying the same thing 8 times in a first draft is mandatory.)
At this point, I usually put the document on to kindle and read it on that. Changing reading format will give you a completely different view of the story – you will suddenly see the typo in a sentence that you’ve read a dozen times, see which sentences are clumsy and awkward, see where you’ve used the same word 5 sentences in a row. (Yes, you can fix the typos now. You mean you haven’t done it already?)
The final step, which takes me to 5 drafts, is to get the kindle to read the book out loud. More typos and sentences that need to be put down will make themselves known. Plus you get to imagine what it would be like if your sex scenes were being read out loud at a robot book club.
By this point, robot book clubs aside, chances are that you are completely fed up with your book. You may even hate it. This is the point at which to stop playing around with it and send it wherever it needs to go.
But before you do, I have one last task for you. Run spellcheck.
Jane O’Reilly writes contemporary romances for Harlequin Escape and erotic romances for Carina UK. Find her on twitter as @janeoreilly, on facebook at www.facebook.com/janeoreillyauthor or visit her website at http://www.janeoreilly.com/
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