Yay! Whether we won NaNoWriMo or not, we survived November (and we’re almost done with 2014—yikes!), and before doing anything else I want to take a moment to gasp—er, breathe. *smile*
First, I want to thank all of my fantastic guest posters who filled in for me last month. I wouldn’t have won NaNo without their help, but I also hope their post topics brought unique subjects here that we might not have seen otherwise. So a shout out to them for their insights on switching genres, researching stories, researching characters, emotional psychology, and editing before submissions. Thank you all!
I’m not kidding about the fact that I wouldn’t have won NaNo without their help. I started slow because my October projects kept me from completing my research ahead of time, and many hours of the first weekend were spent looking up important I-need-to-know-this-to-write-the-premise details.
Even after that research was completed, most of my word count felt like pulling teeth, and I didn’t find a writing groove until the last week. And my beloved keyboard died. And my computer blue-screen crashed and corrupted my hard drive (requiring a full restore)—twice. *sigh*
Seriously. Winning feels like a miracle after all that.
But I’m a Pollyanna who likes taking away something positive from every experience, so let’s talk about how we can move forward from any draft, NaNo or not.
Step #1: Analyze What Worked and What Didn’t
Whether we’ve just finished a one-hour writing sprint or a month-long NaNo novel, it’s good to take a minute and analyze what worked about our processes and what didn’t:
- Did writing sprints help us get into a writing groove, or did they stress us out?
- Did camaraderie help motivate us, or did it add unhelpful pressure?
- Did we do too much story planning and lost inspiration to write, or did we not do enough and flailed with where the story should go?
- Did we know enough about our characters to get into their point of view, and if not, what would have been good to know about them from the beginning?
- Did we have the right amount of conflict and arc planning, and if not, what should we try differently next time?
- Etc., etc.
For example, my situation was too insane to join writing sprints, and that failure kept me from getting into writing grooves early in the month when I needed to let my subconscious take over and show me who these characters were. So a lesson I’m taking away is that when I feel like I don’t know enough about the characters or story, I need to make sure I use a method (like writing sprints) to force my subconscious to step up.
Another area I flailed was with conflict. I thought my hero and heroine would be more stubborn about getting together, but I kept catching them kissing when I wasn’t expecting it. *grin* So the conflict arc is coming together differently from I thought. I think it will still work, but this is a good reminder to make sure we have lots of conflict in our stories so other conflict elements can pick up the slack if one turns out weaker than we’d planned.
Step #2: Analyze the Story’s Big Picture for Pre-Editing
Some of us might be looking at the chaos of our draft and wondering if the story is salvageable. I’m of the opinion that every story can be saved, and it’s just a question of whether we’re willing to put in the work.
But before starting our revisions or edits, we might want to plan how to attack our story. There are three ways we can gather our thoughts about the big picture of our story and prepare for a revision project:
1) Take Notes of Our Initial Concerns
While the story is still fresh in our mind, we can take notes about any big-picture concerns:
- Do we know of any plot holes?
- Where do we suspect the characterization is lacking or “off”?
- Does our story start in the right place?
- Are all the scenes necessary?
- Where do we fear the pacing is slow?
2) Use a Beat Sheet to Check Story Structure
- Do we have a definitive plot event or turning point for each beat?
- Does the story’s arc show change?
- Are there any missing or misplaced beats?
- Do the beats follow a cause-and-effect chain?
- Are there any scenes not acting or reacting to a beat?
- Do the stakes increase throughout story?
3) Check for a Character Arc
Unless we intend to write a flat-arc story, we want to make sure our character experiences change. In the standard positive-arc story structure, the purpose of the plot is to reveal the character arc—how do plot events force them to change?
We can check for a character arc by comparing the beginning of the story to the end of the story:
- How is their life different?
- How have their beliefs changed?
- What’s their self-revelation?
Step #3: Start the Revision and Editing Process
Once we have a chance to gain distance from our story, we can take those notes from Step #2 and start digging in and making changes. The best approach is usually to start with the big-picture issues and work down. There’s no point getting nitpicky on word choice if the whole scene is going to be cut.
During revisions, we’d want to flesh out our themes, add depth, pump up our scenes, strengthen the character arc and plot arc, and make sure goals, conflicts, and motivations are clear. Once we’ve finished revisions, we’d move on to the editing stage and eliminate information dumps, fix show vs. tell issues, clarify settings and descriptions, and balance and strengthen character emotions. Finally, we’d polish our story.
Usually we wouldn’t start revising until after we’ve learned what we can from Steps #1 and #2. I’ve learned that if I start a revision without a plan (even just a simple checklist of issues to fix), my revisions aren’t as efficient as they could be. I tend to fix one thing and then have to go back later and tweak the fix to address another problem.
Others might be different in how they approach revisions and editing, however. The point is figuring out what works for us. Once we know that, we just have to go through our process, get feedback, and then revise and edit again. Easy-peasy, right? *wink*
What techniques worked for your processes in your latest draft? What techniques didn’t work? Do you take notes and prepare before digging into a revision? If so, do you have any suggestions to add to Step #2? If not, how do you kick off a revision and editing project? How did you do with NaNo? What obstacles did you run into?Pin It