Advice for Writing a First Novel, Part 3

Congratulations!  You have a completed rough draft of your very first novel.  You deserve a bit of a celebration.  Grab a gluten-free muffin and a decaf.  Do a couple of deep knee bends, and put your butt back in the chair because now the real fun begins.  (Actually, I’m quite serious about the fun part; I really dig the revision process, but I am, admittedly, OCD.)

  • Read the entire manuscript and make notes only on plot issues. As a mystery reader and writer, I am obsessed with plot.  The narrative is what keeps a reader turning pages, so make sure your plot a) makes sense, b) creates tension and suspicion, c) moves at a moderately rapid pace, and d) provides a surprising, yet inevitable and satisfying ending. And the only way I know to achieve a, b, c, and d is to revise, revise, revise, revise, and then revise some more. A quick tip on revision reading: assign yourself no more than five pages per day.  Moving at this glacial speed, while tedious at times, will ultimately make your reading sessions more productive.  After you’ve identified the plot issues, make any and all necessary corrections.
  • Read the entire manuscript again and make notes only on tone.  Plot is important for mystery readers, but we also read for the voice.  Bottom line, we want an engaging, lively, and unique narrative voice, so take the time to make sure your first novel has one. Too, make sure the tone is consistent throughout. Characters, of course, can evolve (or devolve), but the tone should not. Think of it this way. I’ll bet if I  copied and pasted a passage from one of your favorite author’s books into this post, you’d be able to tell me right away who wrote it. And how would you be able to do that? Because the author created a distinct tone, a unique voice. After you’ve identified the tone issues, make any and all necessary corrections.
  • Read the entire manuscript again and correct any mechanical errors. Like I tell my students day in and day out: proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  An abundance of typos, misspelled words, and rambling sentences is just sloppy.
  • Have an astute reader read your manuscript.  This must be someone you trust to give you honest feedback.  Me, I give my manuscripts to my wife, who is a voracious reader and highly critical (in the good way). Quick story: I gave my wife my first Nick Suits novel, and she flatly told me the plot was all over the place, the voice was off-putting, and the dialogue was wooden.  This criticism, while difficult to hear, was, in a word, spot-on.  Even better: it was specific. My point is find someone who can do more than just say, “I enjoyed it,” or “It wasn’t my cup of tea.”
  • Put the manuscript in a drawer for a month…and then read it again. Honestly, I think all writers get too close to their work, so this break is very important. One other thing: during this break, start a new writing project. After all, writers write.quote-every-writer-is-a-frustrated-actor-who-recites-his-lines-in-the-hidden-auditorium-of-his-skull-rod-serling-167422
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