So last week I took the first draft out of hiding and printed it up for round two. My plan was to go through it with a red pen (okay, it’s green, but you get the point) and mark up weak spots, jot down questions, highlight sections that work. This was not a line-by-line, rewrite everything edit. It was a high-level analysis of what’s working and what’s not.
I also numbered every scene in the book. For example, chapter one now has scenes 1A, 1B, 1C, etc. On a separate sheet of paper, I wrote down the main point of each scene – just one brief line. This will help me keep track of things, sure, but it’s not the point of this exercise. What I’m doing with each of these chunks is questioning how each scene either advances the plot or reveals character. I would love if all scenes did both, but for now I’m just requiring one. And let me tell you, I already have identified many scenes that I can put right in the trash because they don’t do either of these things.
With my last book (you know, the unpublished one) I never really thought about the story. I was glad I was writing, I was glad I was revising, I was glad I wasn’t giving up. But now I’m really trying to actively think about how each scene affects the entire story arc. Am I maintaining tension? Am I creating setting instead of leaving it all in my brain where no one can see it? Do I use too much dialogue? How long has it been since there was some action?
I didn’t consciously think about these things with the first book, and let me tell you it makes a huge difference. I know exactly what my plot is. I know what my character wants. I know what obstacles are getting in her way. I know how it’s resolved in the end. Everything I write needs to support these things.
Now that I’m writing with these goals in mind, it feels a lot easier. And now I can focus on fun things like voice. I can experiment with point of view. I can spend time learning how to write setting. This is one of my weakest areas – at least that I’m aware of at this point – and I have no idea why I always glaze over it. But once someone pointed it out to me, I totally saw it.
So I have a sense of relief that the book is manageable. It’s all still very hard, I’m no expert on this, and this very well may be my second unpublished book. But, I can recognize that I’m learning and the more I know the harder I can challenge myself.
One last comparison, I swear. I think this is the difference between how I jog and how I run. I never consider myself a runner, but I jog three or four times a week. I put one foot in front of the other, quickly, and listen to music and look at the pretty trees. I don’t go very fast, but I get exercise and, until now, that has been enough. But now I want to think about running. I’m trying to time myself, use the incline on the treadmill, actually think about my stride.
My first book was a jog. Now I’m ready to run.