What to do when your draft is finished
by Alison Morton
You sit back, your mammoth writing task over. You’ve clicked Save, you’ve emailed your manuscript to yourself in case your computer dies, and you’ve reached for that well-deserved coffee or glass of wine.
All professional writers admit their first drafts are rough. Ideally, you should put the novel away in a drawer, real or digital, for at least three months to give you distance from the world you’ve been immersed in for the past months, or years. But when you can no longer resist the urge to work on your novel again, it’s red pen time. This is when you weed out the over-writing, the bad grammar, the poor syntax, unnecessary characters and excessive adverbs and adjectives. And double-check any plot holes.
I like the red pen. Some say it’s crushing, demeaning, aggressive. I find it’s clear – a great contrast to black type on white paper. And, yes, you do need to print out your novel for this stage, in double spacing, so that you can write notes above and below the line.
To get the best results, you have to be strict with your own work, to detach and pretend it’s another person’s work. You are not attacking your baby. Like a child, it needs both loving discipline as well as encouragement if it’s going to grow into an independent, well-adjusted member of the book-world.
How to start self-editing
1. Check you have indented each paragraph, except the first one in each chapter – indents not tabs, please, nor spaces. No line spaces between paragraphs unless cutting to a different scene and then start the first line of the new scene with no indent.
2. Go back and do the research for technical points. If you have a climbing scene, do you know the difference between a carabiner and a belayer? Is your action hero using a Sig Sauer or a Glock? Does your heroine shop at the correct store in the correct street?
3. Check that eye and hair colours, and height and build of your characters are consistent.
4. Make sure a character doesn’t know something before they’ve been told/found it out.
5. Make sure it’s not snowing in June in the northern hemisphere or you have any eleven-month pregnancies.
6. Fill in, yes add, description/narrative where you skimmed over it and where it’s necessary. Make sure you’ve used all five senses, not just sight and sound. Half a dozen words or a simple sentence can bring a dull scene alive.
7. Check the voice is consistent and characters use the correct type of speech for their background and age.
8. Substitute ‘dynamic’ verbs for boring or limp-wristed ones and the active voice for lurking passives.
9. Make every ‘very’, ‘then’, ‘suddenly’, ‘mostly’, ‘quite’, ‘nearly’, etc. justify its existence. They’re usually not necessary.
10. Make every sentence a true gem – no clunkiness, no gratuitous or padding words. Is each word or sentence necessary to the text?
11. Make your eyes bleed by checking that every single comma, semi-colon, colon, speech mark, exclamation and question mark is necessary, in the right place and correctly typed. And resist using exclamation marks!
12. Read the whole piece aloud.
And finally, repeat 1 to 12.
The first in a series of exciting alternate history thrillers set in mysterious Roma Nova.
New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.
Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, who rescued her in America, isolates her.
Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…
I held the pen a few inches above the form. Scarcely seventy-two hours after being terrorised by government thugs, I was signing away something that other people desperately sought from that same government. Naïvely, they thought it gave them protection, rights and status. But I’d discovered the hard way what an illusion it was.
I duly signed K Brown. Would I ever use that signature again?
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Genre – Thriller (Alternate History)
Rating – PG13
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