Tuesday Tip

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You finished your first draft; now you’re done, right? WRONG. Not even close. Theoretically, you’re at the beginning yet again. After all, a great book isn’t written–it’s rewritten.

I’ve heard people say they don’t revise or rewrite. Shame on you. A good book, I mean one worth paying money for, has three things.

  • A well-constructed plot
  • Fully-developed characters
  • Smooth prose

Trust me, you can’t achieve those three things in one draft.

Writing requires imagination, creativity, and long hours of time. Rewriting requires less imagination and a whole lot more courage. It’s not for the weak or timid. You’ll be making big decisions. Most of us struggle to make small ones like what to order in drive-thru.

You have to decide if your protagonist is the best voice for your story; if entire scenes should be revised, removed, or added; whether characters be removed or added: whether or not your beginning works; or if the end provides any payoff.

These are the choices you have to make before you even decide does this sentence sound good?

What is rewriting?

There’s a big misconception about what rewriting is. It’s not perfecting a sentence here or there, or correcting typos, it’s gutting, hacking, and dismembering your first draft.

This might sound daunting. You’re playing doctor–God even! I’m talking total reconstructive surgery, not a botox injection.

Difference between revising and rewriting

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing although you’ll probably do a combination of both.

To summarize: Revision is adding and deleting a few words or adding more character motivation or adding or removing description. Rewriting is deleting or adding whole scenes, deleting characters, or changing a POV.

For some straightforward and hilarious examples, see here.

How many rewrites?

There isn’t a certain number. It depends on the MS. My current MS is on rewrite number two. Planning helps cut down on rewrites.

So what’s the first step?

Back away from the manuscript and nobody gets hurt. It might be easier to make objective opinions once you’ve separated yourself from your writing. When you come back to it (say in a week or month or so), that glittering sentence might not shine anymore, or you might unearth some hidden gems.

Look at the big picture

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Ask yourself with an objective eye: What does my protagonist want? Is it clear?

What is the plot? The theme? The conflict?

Did you select the best character to be your protagonist?

Could some characters be cut or blended? Do multiple characters serve the same purpose?

Is your plot well structured? Do any side plots deviate from the main plot?

Be objective or find an objective eye

Looking at the big picture can be challenging when you’re nearsighted, and all authors are–we’re way too close to our WIP to see it clearly. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to be objective. I usually read through and make an often very long list of questions that arise, changes I want to make, plot holes (often gaping and cavernous), side plots or character arcs that are unfulfilled, and other areas of concern.

If you know something is wrong but can’t put your finger on it, consider enlisting help.

Step two: outline

Did you outline before you wrote? Even if you did, once isn’t enough. Rewrite your outline before you rewrite your MS.

You’re not mistaken. Not only am I telling you to rewrite your novel, I’m telling you to rewrite your outline. That’s a lot of rewriting–but the more prepared you are, the less you’ll have to rewrite. Planning can make the difference between two and ten rewrites.

I look back at my first outline and realize I either deviated from it for better or for worse, or I decided to change it. Don’t work off of an old outline. An outline can be your typical diagram or a detailed description of each scene and chapter. If you don’t know how to create an outline, check out this prior Tuesday Tip.

Example of a detailed outline:

Chapter one: Introduce main character, best trait, fatal flaw, ordinary world, goal, and conflict.

Scene one: Start with attention grabbing sentence. Main character is doing this . . . then this happens . . . and so on.

I’m shy about sharing my work but to give you an example of how much my beginning has changed since I started rewriting, this is how my WIP used to start.

Character (side character) discovers that a city has been destroyed and all the inhabitants killed after a very long inner monologue. Next scene takes place years later and introduces main character with major supporting side character.

Notes that I made before revision:

  • No clear main character
  • POV character doesn’t appear again for a couple of chapters
  • Info dump: Might be more interesting to slowly reveal the back story leading up to current events
  • Might be better to start with the destruction of the city from the POV of main character
  • Next scene is too jarring. Too much relies on understanding the characters and their relationship, culture, etc that can’t be summarized in a paragraph

Revised Outline: This is how it starts now (still in progress).

Main character is introduced. Reader is introduced to his world and culture. Exposition is interwoven throughout text instead of being dumped. Character goes to city and destroys it. Conflict is introduced with inciting incident and call to action. Character refuses the call. Character then answers the call to action.

It’s still in the works but what I like is that the main character starts the story. You see how the events that the other character stumbles upon unfold. You see how the main protagonist and main supporting character meet. You get to know him and his goals before the action starts.

What’s still needed. I still need a clearer definition of my character’s goals. I have a basic idea of what he wants, but I need to make sure his goals are strong enough to always be his driving force.

Step three: should it stay or should it go

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Get rid of the clutter and your manuscript is going to be fabulous

I love those home remodeling shows where they make the homeowner choose what to keep, toss, or sell from their clutter. I adopted a similar strategy for revising my MS. I read through from beginning to end, highlighting every word and sentence I want to keep. In a different color I highlight what I want to delete. In a third color what I want to keep for a different project. After I do this I can delete this version so I don’t end up with five or seven word files.

Try this. Chances are, even if an entire scene has to go, you might find a good snippet of dialogue or a wonderful description. If you can still use it, don’t lose it.

Step four: Rewrite or revise

If the scene is good, you may only need to revise: correct syntax, cut and add sentences, etc. But if you are making major changes, you might just want to rewrite. I usually rewrite the entire scene without looking at the old version, or else you just end up with a version that is only slightly different. Then combine the elements that you are keeping from the previous written scene.

Essentially how you rewrite or revise will depend on what kind of writer you are. Do you overwrite? underwrite? Based on that, you may need to cut scenes or write new ones to fill in the gaps. Do you go into too much description or need to add? Do your characters talk too much or not enough?

This is my method. There are others out there. Find the one that works for you. What are some methods that work for you? What are some tricks or tips that you use to make the process easier. Please share.

Tuesday Tip

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After several weeks, I’m finally going to revisit the editing checklist. Remember that? I posted it back in October. It’s a long inclusive list, and I haven’t even touched mechanics and grammar yet. To see the full editing checklist, click here.

Moving right along, it looks like next on the list is editing characters. You might notice after your first draft that some or many of your characters just don’t work. They may need tweaking or to be cut entirely.

Remember, these are all tips on how to go back and edit existing characters, not how to create them from scratch. That’s for a later post.

Make Sure They Have Motivation

Poor motivation, or none whatsoever, is often the culprit if you’re character is falling flat. Goals, dreams, wants, desires drive every action your characters make. Your characters’ motivation can be simple or complex, as long as it’s the driving factor.

Examples of Character Motivation

Troy

I chose this movie because A. I just watched it and B. there are so many characters with motivations that clash and cross I just had to use it.

Achilles: To be remembered forever and ever and ever and ever

Paris: To be with Helen

Helen: To be with Paris

Hector: You know what, I’m just going to use his own words: Honor the Gods, love his woman, defend his county.

Agamemnon: Take over Troy

Menelaus: Get his wife back from the Trojans and regain his honor.

Odysseus: Not die and go home to his wife

Patroclus: To fight

So how do all of these varying motivations come together? Well, they weren’t randomly selected. The movie differs from The Iliad slightly, and for this example, I’m using the film.

Agamemnon wants to take over Troy and finds an excuse to attack the city when his brother Menelaus comes to him asking him to fight with him so he can get his wife back from the Trojans and regain his honor. Helen left her husband to be with Paris who sneaks her into Troy so they can be together. Agamemnon is going to have a hard time taking the city because it is protected by high walls and Hector, the prince of Troy and the city’s mightiest warrior. Of course we know his motivation: defend, honor, love wife, etc. To insure victory, Agamemnon hires Achilles, the supposed greatest warrior of all time, to fight for him. Achilles, though he hates Agamemnon, agrees to fight because he knows anyone who fights at this battle is going to be remembered forever and ever and ever. He really doesn’t have a personal stake in the battle, which is why towards the end he decides to go home, taking his fleet with him; however, his cousin (in the book he’s just a friend) Patroclus wants to fight, so he steals Achilles’ armor and fights the Trojans. He’s slaughtered by Hector who thinks he is Achilles. Enraged by his cousin’s death, Achilles returns to the battle and kills Hector. Greek victory, right? Wrong. There are still those high walls. They aren’t simply going to crumble just because Troy lost its prince. Odysseus knows that they can’t take the city, and they will all die trying. He does not want to die. He wants to go home to his wife, so he comes up with the plan to turn the ships into a Trojan horse so they can invade the city. The rest is history.

Edit for Function

Your character’s function is to serve the plot. When you designed your main character, hopefully you didn’t just pick random traits. Design a character with your plot in mind. Chances are, when you’re planning your story you had some idea of what the plot would be or at least what would happen. Give your character attributes (strengths, weaknesses, fears) that will aid your plot.

Example: Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. This would be a pointless fear–distracting from the plot even–if it wasn’t for the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where, in order to find the Ark, he must pass thousands of snakes in the Well of Souls. His fear is not pointless or random. It was a character trait designed to give him something to overcome. It also happens to make him more relatable and believable.

Edit for Consistency

Inconsistencies are very distracting. Make sure your character is consistent throughout the entire book.

name: This is very important. Readers are ruthless when they find mistakes, don’t make a mispelled name one of them. First things first, decide on a spelling and keep a sheet where you list your characters’ names alphabetically. If you’re not sure how you spelled a name in chapter one, refer to your sheet. If you change the spelling of a name, or the name entirely, simply use the search and replace feature to correct it.

physical appearance: I’ve read books where a character has green eyes in one chapter and then brown in another. It doesn’t seem hard to keep these facts straight. Again, instead of planning your characters as you go, plan them beforehand. Even if you never describe the color of your characters’ eyes or hair, decide what they are just in case you do. Draw a picture, cut out clips from magazines, or write out a description. Refer to it whenever you need to describe your character in narrative.

personality: It’s not enough that your characters look consistent but that they act consistent. If your character is a pessimist, it would be character assassination for them to look on the bright side of a bad situation.

To make sure all of your characters’ attributes are consistent, create a character sketch for each one. Not a drawing per se, but a list of traits or a brief description. In this include their goals and conflicts. A character interview is a great way to get to know your character. For tips on this, see Tuesday Tip #2.

So you can see what a finished character sketch looks like, this is my character sketch for Thaolas.

Thaolas is one of four children. He is blond with blue eyes. He has the body of a warrior, but he doesn’t want to fight. He was his mother’s favorite, but he is despised by his lord. He was born the night of a red moon, which is considered an unfavorable sign where he’s from. He is not his father’s heir, not suited to be a soldier, and his brother does not want him as an advisor, so he has a hard time finding his place. He is a thinker, self-punisher, and avoider of conflict. He is also very curious and likes to learn, which means he ask a lot of questions.
Too Many/Not Enough Characters

Your problem might not be the characters you created, just the number. Maybe your main protagonist spends too much time in thought because you gave her no one to talk to. Perhaps there aren’t enough background characters to make your world believable.

To know for sure if a character is hurting or helping your novel, simply ask yourself , does this character enhance or distract from the main protagonist or the plot. For more detail on this, check out this post where I discuss multiple POVs.

My number one tip when it comes to characters, plan them in advance. This will cut down on edits and rewrites.

I hope you find that helpful. Please comment below. What are some helpful tips you have for keeping character traits straight?

Tuesday Tip

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tip#2When we meet someone for the first time, we ask questions to get to know them–unless you’re Toby Keith and you just wanna talk about you. Asking questions is a great way to get to know your characters.  But who do you ask? Characters aren’t real people; they can’t talk . . . or can they? For my second Tuesday tip, I’m going to talk about one way to get to know your characters.

Character interviews are a fun way to discover what you know–or don’t know–about your characters. By the end of the interview you should establish these things: origin, back story, family, physical appearance, talents/skills, personality traits (both good and bad), and goals/obstacles.

You can pretend you’re Oprah Winfrey or Stephen Colbert. Just make sure you are in the character’s mind frame when you answer the questions. The easiest method for a character interview is to prepare the questions in advance and answer them as the character. Helpful hint: use a friend as an interviewer so your answers will be more spontaneous. Below are some questions you should ask your protagonist as well as your secondary characters. Feel free to post your answers in the comment section below, I’d love to get to know your characters.

Start with Basics

What is your name? Any nicknames? Who gave them to you?

What do you look like? What is your most distinguishing feature?

What are you wearing right now?

What do you do for a living? If you could change jobs, would you?

Where were you born? Do you live there now? Where would you like to live?

What impression do you make on people? Does this attitude change as they get to know you?

Do you have family? Do you get along with them?

Let’s Dig a Little Deeper

What is your greatest fear? Who have you told this to? Who would you never tell?

Do you have a secret? Does anyone know?

What is your greatest achievement?

What is your greatest characteristic? Your worst flaw? Does this flaw get in the way of your goals or keep you from being who you want to be?

What do you do when you’re angry? When you’re happy? Which of these do you feel more often?

Are you in love? Have you ever been in love? Have you had your heart broken?

What is your greatest regret?

What is your best talent? What talent would you like to have?

If you were cleaning your house, what would you have a hard time getting rid of?

If you had one day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

Who is your best friend? Worst enemy? Which would you like to know better?

What is the worst thing that’s happened in your life? The worst thing you’ve done? Did you learn anything from it?