Revising a First Draft

I have to admit it. I finished a first draft of my novel. That should be cause for celebration, but I finished it a while back and haven’t made a lot of progress on it since then. I kind of stopped cold. I read it and am not at all happy with it and feel I have to do an awful lot with it to get it to the stage where I feel it has a chance for other people to like it.

Why have I stopped? Each time I attend the Thrillerfest in NYC and listen to the pros, I feel my work is lacking in a lot of very fundamental areas: plot and characters to name a few. There are also many “minor” but probably still fatal flaws.

The plot is weak. There are some internal inconsistencies, and some parts that don’t really have to be in there. If I read a list of fatal plot flaws, I can usually check off most of them. I know I have to keep it moving faster, start “in media res” to get a reader interested in the first three pages, and raise the stakes for the protagonist a whole lot. I have many scenes that do not move fast and repeat themselves. These have to go. I start with backstory. That has to change. My stakes are nowhere on the level of some of the decent thrillers I have read recently. My stakes must be increased.

My characters are not diverse and tend to be one-dimensional.  Most  major characters are men. I need some strong woman characters, not to mention people representing other areas of diversity. I do have some Asians, so all diversity is not lost, but I need to do better here. My characters are not very likeable. My antagonist needs to be more evil. I need much better character development in my story. The characters are so one-dimensional that one reader complained that she got the characters mixed up–a great perception and one that needs to be addressed. Some characters may need to be eliminated or collapsed into each other to make the story less complex.

I took a pretty good break from writing to gather my thoughts a bit. I read a lot of thrillers both recent and some classics. I learned a lot and dove into some craft books. There were also some other reasons for not writing, both good and bad. I imagine all readers wrestle with self doubt and the need to deal with the things that life constantly throws at you.  I believe I am ready to start up again with the coming of the new year, but I have no delusions about the task ahead of me. I know I need a hearty dose of self-discipline, but I have to get back to the joy of writing and creating again.

I am not sure of exactly how I plan to move forward. I wrote the first draft from a pretty weak outline, and the story took itself to a very different place than I had originally intended. I spent a lot of time writing from the seat of my pants and managed to set word goals each day. That worked for me. The second draft is a different beast entirely, and I am not sure how to move forward. I believe I need to spend some time thinking about character development and get my plot a lot tighter. The characters sort of emerged from the first draft without a whole lot of thought. I believe that is my first step. My next step will be to tighten the plot and increase the stakes. The painful process of deleting scenes looms ahead of me.

As I conclude this blog entry, I believe I have to get on a positive note and celebrate what I have done so far.  I actually wrote a 120,000-word first draft of a novel. A lot of people don’t even get that far. I learned a whole lot in the process, I even made a few new friends. How bad is that? I’ll let you know how the second draft goes. It will be better. If anyone has any suggestions on how to move forward with the second draft of a first novel, please feel free to comment. I know it will not be easy.

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