Friday, August 17, 2012

The X-Files

Wednesday’s post on the “Almost Dead Files” is a stellar example of Latayne’s natural talent and genius.  I think we all agree it would be a crying shame if she never completed the manuscript.  Maybe one day she will be able to fit it into her hectic life.

Out of curiosity, I plugged in my old flash drive and pulled up my first novel with every intention of posting a paragraph or two.  How bad could it be?  After all, it was taken to committee by the first editor who read it.  (Bless her heart)

The story couldn’t have been farther removed from what I now write.  The 50,000 word manuscript was a Gold Rush romance set in early California with a newly widowed heroine who is alone in the world and thrown into dependence on the one she blamed for her husband’s death. I researched at night and wrote scenes during afternoon nap time at my home day care.  The story poured easily from some deeply creative space, so again, how bad could it be?

Um…there are no words for how bad it is, so I won’t subject you to it.  But I will perform an autopsy. Here are some of the classic mistakes I made on my first draft:

Opened too far from the action
Flashback in the first chapter
Predictable premise
Heroine too snarky
Didn’t check the guidelines from the targeted publisher
Didn’t target a publisher
Wrong POV
Superfluous/duplicate characters
Passive word choices (yawn)
Too much description
Overuse of hyphens
Stilted dialogue
Rambling elevator pitch

Here are some things I did right (on the rewrite):

Extensive research, invested in books on life during the Gold Rush
Chopped the first three chapters
Used flashbacks sparingly and farther from the opening
Wrote more natural dialogue
Improved the heroine’s likeability
Researched publishers and modified scenes to meet their guidelines
Changed the POV to first person
Included the hero’s POV
Limited the number of sentences that began with “I”
Cut duplicate, unnecessary characters (or combined them)
Cut description that did not serve a purpose
Added a few twists to the plot
Improved the elevator pitch and practiced it

I deleted more than I added to the final draft. Cut, chopped, changed, limited are words that mean business. I remember that I had to step back from it for awhile before the knife was steady in my hand.  A lot of work had gone into all those words, but I knew the story was better off without them.

 What is the most important thing you learned from writing your first draft of your first manuscript? We'd love to hear!


Anonymous said...

Debbie, there's a whole workshop's worth of information in this post. I'm glad I can't find my first novel, because I would have to expand on your list in all the things I did wrong. But believe me, it was a long time before I learned how to correct some of my mistakes. Keep these notes, girl. You WILL teach this somewhere, someday.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thank you, Sharon, I would love to teach that workshop!
BTW I love your new book! Yay!

Samantha Bennett said...

Such good stuff here! Hmmm... the most important thing I learned from manuscript #1 is the need for conflict. I had been way too kind to my characters, sheltering them, coddling them, and refusing to let anything too dramatic happen in their lives. Which is so indicative of where I was at during that life season. Love this post!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Samantha. It's hard to throw them under the bus, isn't it? It's interesting that you realize that it was 'so indicative of where I was.' Good insight!

Megan Sayer said...

I can't believe I tried writing books for so long without realising the importance of this. D'UH!!!! I always considered myself a "pantser" (without knowing the term for it) and justified the huge amount of output I created with the expectation that one day I'd tie it all up neatly. Hmmm. Yeah.
No wonder those books never got finished.
My time is too limited to do that these days. I've way learned the importance of a strong outline, even if I do balk at the idea of organising every detail.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I agree, it does save a lot of time. I was loosey-goosey with the first book because I was doing it for fun and there was a tremendous amount of rewrite because I didn't outline. Never again!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

My first draft was chock full of adverbs (among MANY other amateur errors). I didn't even know that was a bad thing, at the time. The first 3 chapters I sent off got a full MS request from a top agent and editor at the first conference I attended. I thought I was pretty hot stuff.


Imagine my surprise when I picked up a copy of "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" at conference and discovered all the things I'd been doing wrong. And I mean ALL of them. I'd never even heard of a writing craft book until that point. Just goes to show how completely green I was. I think the interest was due more to God's mercy than anything else.

Thankfully I realised all my (many) mistakes before I sent off that full MS to those who'd requested it.

S.D. Hirsch said...

I know that rereading what we've written can embarrass us, but I think in a lot of cases that we're holding ourselves to industry standards and ideals. That doesn't always help us. In fact, I think it hinders us more often than not. Looking over your list of things you think you did wrong I felt the need to rebuff some of it:

Opened too far from the action:
Not always a bad thing. Allows for character development if it isn't TOO far from the action.

Flashback in the first chapter:
I know the industry doesn't like this, but I could care less. If it's done right then I love what flashbacks do for story and character feel.

Predictable premise:
Not all stories are unpredictable. It's the characters that suck us in no matter what, otherwise NCIS, House, and Star Trek would have been shut down after less than a season.

Heroine too snarky:
Snarky, like sexy, sells. I love snarky characters.

Didn’t check the guidelines from the targeted publisher:
Shouldn't be an issue since you didn't target a publisher (per your next statement) :-)

Didn’t target a publisher
See above... lol

Wrong POV:
Is there a wrong one? It's all in the style of writing.

Superfluous/duplicate characters
Could be an issue, but this is easily fixable, and even "duplicate" characters can be used as confidantes to like-minded characters. Reminds us that just as not all people are alike, not all people are all that different either.

Passive word choices (yawn):
Good thing to catch!

Too much description:
This is a matter of perspective, but I like description so long as it is not the same description rephrased one sentence later.

Overuse of hyphens:
Good thing to catch!

Stilted dialogue:
Good thing to catch, but some characters might actually speak that way!

Rambling elevator pitch:
Not sure what you meant here. Can you expand on the concept?

Thank you for reading my musings on your article!