I know, I know, you’ve finally finished that first draft. It has taken months, you’re proud it, it’s your best work yet and now you’re faced with being critical of it. Also you have an idea for what is going to be your next ‘best story yet’ and you can’t wait to start. The best advice at this point is put it down for a few weeks, work on that new idea, even start writing that next project. While you’re doing that the subconscious will be mulling over that first draft. It’ll be nagging away at those weaknesses you know are there, those bits of prose that sounded clumsy even as you wrote them. It’ll also have worked out how to make some sections come alive, how to better describe those key moments on which the plot turns.
Sometimes I can’t wait to come back for those first few revisions (yes, for me it takes three, four, five versions before I think I’m getting there). After all I want my work to be the best that it can be. There are the obvious big questions: Does the plot flow; have I included something later that needs setting up earlier; have I contradicted myself; have I repeated something. However, it’s also time to be creative with the text. And yes I will take bits out that on reading that are clumsy, over done or just plain redundant. But, I will also add. I’m a science fiction writer and I want people to see the worlds I create as I see them. It’s in the revision process when the story is set that I spend time working on those extras that will bring my worlds and my story alive. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I treat the adage ‘if it doesn’t move the story along take it out’ with caution. The trick is to add enough to enhance the story without boring the reader or getting in the way of their own imagination.
I, honestly enjoy these revisions. I read the story afresh, it will have been months since I started. I can pat myself on the back for my inventiveness as well as chastise myself for the clunky bits (did I really write that?). Most good stories are about the people (I include aliens in this) so I concentrate more on the characters. I know my characters much better than I did when I started, I know how they might react, what they are likely to say in given situations. So I read it with that in mind. I can improve their dialogue, add humour and bring out their personalities. It is also a chance to play with words which is something I love as a writer, how can I describe that in a new, unusual way, a way that might make the reader smile, challenge or surprise them?
The first revision or two will involve more rewriting as I describe above and that’s when I feel the work really comes together. The later revisions are about finesse and just as important. For me it’s about wanting the reader to ‘read the story without seeing the words’.
So next time you’ve finished that first draft put it down for a few weeks, until you can’t wait to get back to your characters and find out what they’ve been up to while you’ve been away. I’m sure they’ll surprise you. Enjoy those revisions. The problem for me sometimes is knowing when to stop.
As always your comments are welcome.