Or How to Write a Novel When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
The time has come.
READY, SET, READ
Yes, print out your novel on
cheap inexpensive recycled printer paper, put it in a pretty binder and crack it open. You have two options here. Read it like any other novel. OR… take notes as you read. Since this is a remedial course, you most likely do not already have an editor. We’re going to self-edit. I am loosely following the guidelines from well-storied.com for Editing your First Draft.
The goal here with your first read is to discover whether you have produced a diamond (check for typos and write your query letter, you don’t need me), a diamond in the rough or a fossilized dog turd that has escaped the pooper scooper too many times. If it’s the dog turd, go back and start over. (Lesson 1, Lesson 2)
For interest’s sake, I’m going to assume that we have a diamond in the rough here, though you truly won’t know until you reach the page that says “The End”.
On Taking Notes
I was incapable of “just” reading my fabulous work of art, but if that’s what you did with your first reading and you have that precious diamond in the rough, grab a spiral notebook and a bunch of different colored pins and take some notes.
Start with your brilliant first sentence. Did you angst over it like I did imagining that if you nailed the first sentence the rest would be gravy? Hell yeah! Or not. My first worried over sentence seemed to be a disconnect from the rest of the book. Actually my entire first chapter seemed to be a disconnect and that’s where the notes come in handy.
Specifically, I was looking for:
- the timeline. When did the action in this chapter take place and for how long? Was it less than a day, or did it cover several months? (noted with blue ink)
- a general synopsis. The action. (orange ink)
- characters in the chapter. (purple ink, along the right-hand side of the notes. If it was their first mention, they got a * by their name.)
- location(s) of the action (green ink)
- any BIG events (pink-ish ink)
- Problems (red ink).
Yes. I found at least one problem in almost every single chapter and I’m not talking typos here. In fact, if you aren’t too OCD, ignore those typos as those are the least of your problems. The problems that need to be dealt with first:
PLOT HOLES. Like pot holes, these can throw your entire novel out of alignment. You should concentrate on finding all these “holes” in your story because any further editing and revising will be pointless if these aren’t repaired. Some are easier to fix than others.
The big plot holes are those that swallow your novel whole. These are the kinds of things that turn your diamond in the rough into the fossilized dog turd with the turn of the page.
Does your story make sense?
Oh, yeah, this may be the biggest. In the case of Grace Gallery, my WIP novel, I ended up with two main plotlines (A & B) and at least one subplot (C) that I meant to be a main plot. A & B competed for top spot and if they both stayed in the book you would be left scratching your head at the end wondering what genre you were reading. Was it a quirky love story or a murder mystery? I’m not saying that you won’t find those two genres co-existing in a novel, but it wasn’t working in mine. It left me, the author, saying, “Wait. What just happened?” too many times. Must be fixed.
Know your characters
Like a plot run amok, if you do not know your characters intimately they’ll surprise you during your first read and you, as author, should not be surprised that Tom has been the bad guy all along. Characters should change and grow, but they have to be doing things that make sense from chapter to chapter. Must be fixed.
In a general sense as well as a plot sense, events should have some element of predictability. Even in science fiction or fantasy, events in the world you made up should be predictable. For example, if your world does not have gravity then the characters can’t simply be walking around like it does. Ask yourself, could this event really happen in my world.
The smaller plot holes are easier to fix, but they still must be fixed. Did you change the sheriff’s last name as you wrote? What about the names of some of the locations? Did the local bar go from being called “Sam’s” to the “Watering Hole”? If you said there would be food trucks in one scene and then they never materialize, you have to do something about that.
Are your timelines off or does the action occur in one place and the characters are unexpectedly beamed across town? This may turn out to be a big problem if it isn’t fixed.
Is your bad guy suddenly an accomplished ballroom dancer? What?!
If you can’t figure out what is happening, if you say “wait, what?!” every other page, if you have to flip back through the chapters to find out if Sheriff Jones is the same as Sheriff Smith or they are two different people…. you have some work to do.
The next few lessons will cover revising and a writing software review.