Without further ado, here’s her post (and a jolly good one it is too).
“THE END”? NOT SO FAST… Guest post by E.F.Watkins
The day after Christmas, I wrote the last chapter of my new novel. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment!
I’ll take a breather for a while. Then I’ll go back and write the whole book all over again.
Well, not exactly. But although I have a solid first draft, the novel has a way to go before I show it to a prospective agent or publisher. And that doesn’t bother me. I love rewriting!
When I was very young, and couldn’t decide between the equally lucrative professions of novelist and artist, I liked to paint in oils. First, I would sketch out the main contours. Next, I’d fill in the chief color areas. After that, I’d put in highlights and shading and correct any small mistakes. Since oil paint takes a while to dry, in between each step I could re-think the effect I was trying to achieve. In the end, I usually ended up with something close to what I’d envisioned.
Writing a novel works the same way. Some people do an outline or a detailed synopsis first—the “sketch.” Then comes the first draft, where you start laying in the key points. But it takes several rewrites, and some thought in between, to sharpen your focus and make the story come to life.
People approach first drafts in different ways. Some write long, then cut the unnecessary stuff to produce the final book. I usually write a little short, concentrating on action, dialogue plus only the most essential background and description. Along the way, I make notes as to what I want to flesh out later.
My approach has changed a bit since I’ve been working with a critique group. I used to write a draft all the way through, then polish from start to finish a couple of times. Many writers prefer that approach so they don’t lose their initial momentum. But with the critique group, I like to have each chapter fairly presentable before they hear it, so I do some polishing as I go along. As I get feedback, I make notes in the margins to guide me when I rewrite.
A sympathetic critique is helpful, because it’s hard to be objective about how your story is coming across. You may “hear” a character speaking one way in your head, and consider him charming, but a reader may interpret the dialogue differently and find him annoying. You may be so concerned with creating a dramatic scene that you haven’t bothered to research how a cop or FBI agent would actually handle the situation, or you may have an elderly woman or a teenaged boy behaving in a way that’s not believable. It’s good to catch problems like this early!
Some other tips:
If you feel shaky about your spelling or punctuation, study up or have a friend with good skills proofread for you. As for typos, remember that if you use the wrong “sound-alike” word, such as “there” for “their,” spell-check won’t catch it!
Do you have big clumps of background information that slow the pace? Sprinkle it more subtly throughout the scene. The same goes for descriptions of places or characters.
Do your characters sit and gab for long stretches? In a movie or TV show, they call that “talking heads” because it’s so static. Get them moving! If they can’t walk through an interesting environment, at least have one of them pace around the room or work on a project while talking.
If they’re eating, they can comment on the food or be interrupted by the waiter, but don’t turn the scene into a restaurant review. Consider just summarizing it: “Over lunch, Ellen brought Sam up to speed on what she’d learned so far.”
Replace any clichés with fresher similes and metaphors. Cut unnecessary dialogue tags. Smooth out transitions between sentences and scenes.
One last piece of advice: Don’t be discouraged by a crummy first draft. Consider it raw material, crude blobs of color on the canvas that you now can shape into a work of art. Rewriting can be the most creative part!
How about you?
What do you do after you've typed 'THE END'?
E. F. Watkins specializes in paranormal thrillers and mysteries. Her novel DANCE WITH THE DRAGON won the 2004 EPPIE in Horror, and her s-f thriller BLACK FLOWERS was a 2006 EPPIE finalist in Action/Thriller. She also has published the romantic mystery RIDE A DANCING HORSE and the paranormal thrillers, PARAGON and DANU‘S CHILDREN.
In case you’re wondering when I’ll post the interview I did with the top three finalists, it’ll be on Tuesday, January 12.