As those of you who follow me on twitter or facebook will know, I’ve just finished the first draft of Dark Angels, the first book in the Riley Jenson offshoot series. A few people have asked what’s next, to which my first response is, now the real work begins. Just because I’ve finished it doesn’t mean its ready to go.
Which is what today’s post is about–what to do with that book once you’ve written it.
Writing “The End’ for the very first time is an amazing (and rewarding) moment, but it never actually means that the book is finished. It just means that the bare bones of the story is there. So no, don’t start dreaming yet of those six figure sums the editor is sure to offer you the minute your baby lands on her desk because no editor will even look at a story that is a half-baked mess. And yep, that’s the reality of most first drafts.
So, what’s the first thing you should do when you write “the end” for the very first time? Personally, I’m a big fan of filing it away somewhere safe and forgetting about it for at least a month (or, if you’re like me and have some seriously deadlines looming, then leave it for as long as possible). Go write something else, play with new characters and new worlds. This will give your mind a break from the story, so that when you do go back to edit the novel, you’ll see it through new eyes. And trust me, you’ll be amazed at the number of goofs you find.
So what should you be looking for when you go back to edit? Here’s what I look for (in no particular order) :
Setting — is the setting fully fleshed out and believable/ seeable? Does it add to the story or distract from it?
Plot — does the plot make sense? Do you have plenty of turning points, as well as unexpected twists and turns? Does the plot heighten the tension and internal conflict?
Characterization — are the characters fully fleshed out and believable? Are they individuals, with their own voices, or do they all sound the same?
Back Story — Is it woven into the story or does it stand apart? Does each character’s back-story appropriately fit their behavior, emotions and conflict?
Goals and Motivation — do the goals and motivation of your characters make sense in terms of the overall plot? Do they conflict or coincide, and how does this relate back to the overall plot? Do you want to cheer your characters on?
Pacing — Does the story rip along or does it drag? Are there exciting moments as well as moments of relief? Are there enough turning points–emotional as well as plot based–and plenty of obstacles being thrown in the way of your characters?
Dialogue — does it flow easily or does it sound stilted? Do you have too many long, wordy speeches or overly long stretches of narrative between dialogue? (this can slow the pacing down)
Other things to check for:
Balance — there should be a good balance between narrative and dialogue.
Inconsistencies — check for inconsistencies not only in plot, but character and timeline.
Grammar — always check that your spelling and punctuation is as perfect as you can get it. Delete those clichés (unless they’re deliberate). Is your word choice and language appropriate? Oh, and find and destroy repetitive words.
Details — make sure things like police procedures, technical details, job descriptions etc are right.
And after you’ve done all the checks and polished as much as you can? Well, I’m also a big believer in advance readers, so if you have someone you trust (someone who will be honest about what they like as well as what they didn’t/what they stumbled over), then hand it over to them and be prepared to work on whatever problems they find.
After that, steel yourself and send your baby out.