The First Draft Re-Write Agony
I was so happy when I finished the first draft of my novel, and thought that the hardest part of writing was behind me. How wrong was I!
As soon as I started, I ran into major stumbling blocks. Besides the more obvious ones such as grammatical errors, structure sentence, dialogue tags, showing versus telling, unnecessary scenes etc. etc. I identified the following:
Being too close to the character
Mainly due to the fact that my story is based on real life events, I struggle with one dimensional main character. Nancy Kress in her book Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint advises to change/add characters attributes, if you are basing your character on yourself or someone you know. For example, if you base your character on your aunt, who is a nurse that loves her job, try changing something about her. What would happen if she hated it?
If the character is based on ourselves, it is difficult to convey characteristics and information about their life, because we know too much, we are too close. Sometimes we do not realize that the reader doesn’t know, certain facts about the character that are so obvious to us. They only know what they read on the pages of the novel.
In my novel I completely “forgot” to portray my main character Gia other than sad, depressed or pining, because I know her so well! If I was a reader I don’t think I would like her very much, in fact she would get on my nerves quite a lot, because I wouldn’t know that she is also funny, adventurous, curious…. And why the heck would Lokie want to talk to her?
That also goes for the overall tone of my whole book.
It is too depressing
When I first had the idea to write the story, my intentions were to help others, to offer a message of hope. To let others know that even, if terrible things happen to us, it doesn’t mean we would be unhappy forever, and that even something good can come out of it. So in an attempt to lighten up the mood, I wrote a scene that is quite comical. Don’t ask me where it came from, it just wrote itself, but now I am facing a new problem. Is it too much? Is it okay to write a sad story with funny bits sprinkled in? I’ll have to work on this to find the right balance of happy/sad.
Character’s emotional arc
I have to add scenes to show the character’s emotional arc. At the beginning show the main problem – Gia is emotionally closed, afraid of expressing emotion, or staying connected, and at the end I have to show the opposite in a believable scene aka the validation scene. That is in fact the message of hope, that I am striving to communicate to the readers.
The dreaded plot
To say that I struggle with the plot is an understatement. I kept wracking my brains up with: How do I write a story, part of which happened when Gia was a teenager, and the other part 15 years later? I learnt that I am dealing with a dual time line. I had an idea to use Gia’s journal to tell the story of teenage Gia, because it is actually true that I kept a journal, and when I found it again years later it started the “problem” again. But then I started to have doubts, because of the way I wrote it – some of it are actually fully dramatized flashbacks, that would be a shame to loose.
I came to a conclusion to just alternate the chapters – present time, journal entry, present time, journal entry, flashback, present time etc. I know it slows the flow, but the past is crucial to the present. This however created yet another problem.
I thought, I had the perfect beginning: Gia finds her old journal in the attic and dives straight into the past. But my research showed that it is not advisable to go back into the past right at the beginning of the book. There is no real hook. Readers probably wouldn’t care what happened to Gia years ago, if they do not know her yet in present time. They do not know what’s at stake, why it matters so much. etc. etc.
Another major hiccup – the middle- or rather the big time gap in the middle of the story.
The time shift
How do you gracefully sail from one time period to the next? From what I read – it could confuse or loose the reader altogether. The best way is to just let the reader know at the beginning of the chapter when and where is the next scene taking place. Such as: New York, September 2001, or Three weeks later…, or The next time I saw him, I was Christmas shopping etc. It is also advised to set the scene establishing the new time/setting to further orientate the reader.
Too much pathetic fallacy
I love conveying Gia’s moods and her state of mind by describing the nature or the weather, that almost always perfectly matches her mood. How convenient! Lol I still like it, because I just love nature, and the weather has such a strong effect on me, but I think I will tone it down a bit. You also probably guessed that I like Wuthering Heights. 🙂
I am sure there will be more, as I get further along with the re-write. There are times, when I think that everything I have done is wrong, and that I’ll never finish it. These are the darkest days, when I get overwhelmed and stuck, but then the sun comes out again, and I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know that I am not giving up. (Oh, yeah I must not forget the cliches!)
How about you? What is your experience with re-writing your first draft? I would love to hear from you and any tips you might have!