How To Write What You Know, or How Not Waste Time Trying To Do It Differently ~ Part two
So, I have an idea of my characters and storyline but I'm still way off actually typing a single word. I tend to do all my planning by hand in notebooks, though there are tools such as Scrivener that you might like to use. Personally I like the feel of notebooks and having them to hand on the table beside me.
You know how it is when you read a book and something jumps out at you that doesn't ring true? Perhaps you're reading about a professional and the technical jargon jars, or procedures you know to be incorrect? For me, the whole premise falls apart if I spot a mistake and I start to pick holes ~ sorry, but I can't help myself. Small things I can overlook, but a big thing will irritate me. You have to do your homework. An example, in The Longing, my protagonist needed to buy midwifery equipment from the internet. I discovered that you can buy almost anything ~ why am I even surprised at this ~ believe you me, you can buy bona fide midwifery equipment on-line. I also researched Home Births and the non involvement of health professionals. If these parts of the storyline were not credible, then my story would have fallen apart and I would've had to go back to square one. I'm quite particular in testing plot points to ensure there are no holes to fix (when writing drafts), and that they maintain integrity to the novel.
I then plan out my story arc by hand. I'm assuming that you know about the 'Three act novel structure,' so I won't go into that here. If not, do search the internet, there is plenty there that will explain.
I do use the Beat sheet* to ensure plot and pace are as they should be ~ at least for the first draft as it is a useful tool.
My WIP notebook!
Below, my collection of (some) of my notebooks full of snippets, quotes and ideas that sit by my side as I write. I'd be lost without them!
The first draft
Once my homework is done, I get typing and lay out my story ~ just get it told. I don't edit as I go along as I think you're asking for trouble ~ it can alter the flow and dynamic of your writing. I do keep my WIP notebook by my side in case I think of something I might want to query or add to later ~ a quick note to jog my memory. Once the first draft is completed I breathe a sigh of relief and put it to one side, maybe for a week or two.
The second draft
This is where the real story telling happens. The first draft is probably going to be too many words (never have a problem with having not enough words), and an edit is necessary before a re-write, such as:
* Is it still the story I want to tell, what needs to change and does it feel right?
* Are the characters and plot lines weaving together as they should?
* Are the chapters in the right order?
* Delete unnecessary words like 'that,' 'the,' 'and.' Not forgetting adverbs as they rarely add anything to the text.
* Double check your narrative is 'Show not Tell.'
* What do I need to cut out? Be ruthless and don't kid yourself. Be honest, you know what's not working. I used to think how on earth can I cut a sentence never mind a paragraph? Now I can cut whole chapters with ease.
A Tip! If you do like a certain phrase or paragraph and know it's not for WIP, save in a file for another project.
If I've moved chapters around and / or cut chapters, I go back and check that a)The plot still hangs together, and b) The dialogue continues to make sense. Does a character refer to an incident that has been deleted from the story line, for example? Oops, a rethink or rewrite is required.
Once I'm satisfied with all that I've done so far, the second draft is written. When completed, I leave alone for a while, maybe a month of so. When I come back to it I will see it through new eyes.
The third draft
I like to print off a copy. Yes, I know there are edit tracking tools on your computer but I like to have a hard copy. This is also where I start to pray to the writing angel to get me through this, and there may or may not be alcohol involved. With a red pen I read through with a critical eye. Be ruthless in what still needs to be altered or deleted ~ though it is unlikely that anything serious will be highlighted.
Mistakes jump out to the human eye in way that doesn't happen quite as well on screen. I also read my manuscript out loud. All the better for hearing the rhythm of the words and whether it works or not, especially dialogue. Weird though it might sound, you can hear whether the story is working or not.
Hopefully, with all the work put in so far, it is shaping up to something half way good. Ok, re-write. Once this draft is completed, I put it aside for a month or so and go weed the garden, or something.
Just to say, there can be more drafts between the second and third from what I've indicated here, depends how much needs to be addressed. The principle is the same though~ be honest, ruthless and sound in your approach.
The fourth draft
Again print off a copy (I know, I know, what about the trees I hear you ask)? This time I laboriously go through line by line with a red pen and a ruler. Yes, I could have done this in the previous draft but I'm a masochist and like to do this bit by bit, and yes it is painful. What am I doing this time? I'm looking for typo's, spelling mistakes and other grammatical errors. It is tedious and boring and I wonder why I put myself through it, but I do. While I'm doing this, I'm likely to ask Beta readers~writers and non writers~to read and offer feedback. No doubt they will highlight any spelling errors I'll have missed ~ spell check isn't perfect and is why I use a red pen and ruler.
A Tip! Never show others your work before it's (almost) ready. You can bounce ideas, and seek solutions to plot problems, but don't share your work until you're on the home run. Even if you tell people that it's "just a draft," the chances are they won't hear that. They will read your manuscript like they read a book and may be disappointed. You know it's a draft, but if they are less than confident about it and think it's 'too rough,' their response will potentially affect your confidence. You don't need that negativity, writing's hard enough.
Respect constructive feedback and remember the work belongs to you, take what you need and leave it at that.
Another Tip! Don't share your manuscript with people who are going to 'blow smoke,' as that's equally unhelpful. You know what I mean, those who will try and flatter you, say the 'right' thing. We all need a confidence boost, but stay away from those who are too eager to please ~ you'll only end up disappointed.
By this time I feel like I'm losing the plot ~ pun intended. But I know that it will be worth it in the end. Once I've received feedback, I start on the fifth and hopefully, final draft.
The fifth draft is the polished version. I'll go on to be happy with it. I make sure that the document is presentable and neat in the correct font and so on. This time I leave the my manuscript alone, no more tinkering, for three to four months before I read out loud again. Do I still like my story? Do I love my story? Is it ready? Be honest! Then I'm ready for the next stage ~ sending it out to Agents. But that's a whole other story!
* On youtube watch 'Shaelin Writes,' for her going through the Beat Sheet. She also offers a free download of the Beat Sheet to use. I would say if you find plotting and pace tricky then this is a useful tool to use.
Find me on Twitter @nearthetown and on Instagram @writerintheattic