I sometimes say the first draft of a novel is the most satisfying to write. When the creative spirit gallops free as a mare in the fields, kicking up its heels, you know the work is going splendidly! But when it’s not, your spirit [creative or otherwise] drags along like a lame donkey hauling a cart of manure. Life can be unmitigated hell.
But at last, it’s wonderful! Your first draft of an entire novel exists, complete with a beginning, middle and end. Now what happens?
If your creative spirit roamed free in writing the first draft, it may be a terrific novel, but I’ll bet you’ll have your work cut out for you.
I wrote Final Paradox, the second in The Osgoode Trilogy, in long bursts of creativity. In fact, it seemed someone else inside me, [a different person from the one who wrote Conduct in Question] was doing the heavy work. Ever had the experience of saying something and thinking-who on earth said that? I believe that’s your subconscious chiming in. And so, if that happens when you’re writing, pay attention! It’s probably really good.
However, be careful. You’ve probably got a tremendous amount of re-drafting work ahead of you. In it’s first draft, Final Paradox, was a crazy, sprawling mass of contradictions. You could tell creative passion had written it. Rough and disorganized it may have been, but it had an energy all its own.
What to do? First, I went through it chapter by chapter, trying to see just what should go where. Although I almost never make charts and plans at the outset, I frequently make scroll-like charts to show me where I’ve been. Then I can tell whether I made a wrong turn there or went down a path to nowhere at another point. Then, I studied Robert Mckee’s extremely useful book Story, Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. This helped me “train” the story, so as to put it into an effectively paced, properly integrated progression of scenes. And that took many months of study and re-organizing.
Next came the refining. Once I had the chapters reasonably well organized, I was able to examine the manuscript in more detail. How did the dialogue sound? Did each major character speak in his or her own distinctive “voice”? Could I contrast one action scene with a slower paced, more reflective one? How could I weave in themes of love and forgiveness among all the murder and fraud? How could I connect these two levels? Thousands of questions came up, but finally, I was at a second draft, which was much more understandable.
After that, I could pay attention to all the smaller details, such as grammar, spelling etc. One of the tasks, which comes in the much later drafts, is polishing and embellishing. For example, suppose you’ve written a scene [as I did in Final Paradox for Harry Jenkins] where he is on the run and hiding out in a dingy motel. I wanted to capture not only the description of the place, but also express his mood of desperation and depression through that description-all in just a few sentences. Making those choices of words and phrases is, for me, the polishing and embellishing of the manuscript.
And so, if you’ve “tamed” that manuscript, without killing it’s passion and energy, you’ve done a great job. When the wild horse is “broken” and trained properly with love and care, he may win the race. If you keep revising and redrafting, you may win the Kentucky Derby of novels!
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