Writing a manuscript for a novel can be a challenging but rewarding process. Crafting a compelling narrative with dimensional characters and clever dialogue allows creativity to soar out of your imagination and onto that page.
Even with a strong outline, you may find yourself second-guessing a choice you made, rethinking a chapter, or needing more information about a location or other details. All of these can be important to creating the world of your story.
After completing my writing session for the day (or late at night, which is my preferred writing time), my brain will run through what I wrote and find new ways or ideas to strengthen my writing. The trick is NOT to go back and start rewriting what you already wrote.
No. Your initial goal with your first/rough draft is the get the story on the page, from Chapter One to THE END. Only then should you scroll back up to the top of your Word document and begin the rewriting process.
What I do is take notes post-writing sessions about what I worked on. That way, I have the information and ideas available for use later if I decide to incorporate them. You can use your Notes app on your phone or tablet, a journal, or just a piece of paper to jot things down.
Here are some notes topics to consider (you can also jot down notes as you’re writing, but don’t go back and fix things yet):
Ask Yourself Questions?
After taking some time to reflect, write down some questions about the section of your manuscript, you worked on today. What worked? What didn’t work? Were there chapters that lost momentum or lacked important information? What chapters dragged on for too long and why? Were there character moments that elevated the main characters? Did story elements get lost at any point?
This is a constructive way to think about possible issues and changes that might pop up during the rewrite phase and allows you to have a reference point once you begin. It can also help make the rewrite process less overwhelming since you’ve already started thinking about what’s been working and what needs improvement.
Things to Add
Maybe you wrote a great scene with two characters talking in a park. You realize during your reflection that it was all dialogue and no action or description of the park or what the two characters might be doing.
This is a good place to comment that you must add these elements into the chapter to give the reader more information.
I often find myself introducing characters, then realizing that they are non-descript voids with names and dialogue but no physical traits or clothing descriptions. This is another thing that can be placed in this category as a friendly reminder to make sure ALL named characters are described in some way.
Things to Cut
Even in a solid outline, things can sometimes not work as well once they’re fleshed out on the page. Before you highlight and delete these items, note that there may be something that should be cut.
This can also be used if a subplot isn’t working, doesn’t add to the story or character development, or if you feel a chapter drags on for too long and should be cut down.
Things to Develop
If you find that a character takes on a life of their own in your manuscript and you want to give them more page time, make a note to develop the character further.
You can also include developing the setting and character descriptions here. When you’re in the zone and writing fast, things can get left out or mentioned and not given more detail. Anything you want or need the reader to know must be fully realized on the page, so include that aspect here.
Things to Research
Your main character is going to Columbia University! Great! What do you know about it? Nothing! Time to get on the Google machine or the Columbia University website and start researching.
This can be for anything that needs more information or detail to make things real for your reader. “Steph got into her car.” What’s the make and model? Color? “He put on boots.” Ugg boots? Ski boots? Cowboy boots?
Doing a little research and fine-tuning can further bring your reader into the story. Find pictures of the clothing items you’d like your characters to wear and use them for your descriptions. Same with houses, restaurants, furniture, etc. Paint a picture with words and bring the reader into that home or campus.
This tactic can help you not get sidetracked while you’re doing the work of writing your manuscript. You will be ahead of the game by taking some time – since you’ll be thinking about it anyway – to reflect and jot down what things to improve, add, cut, or research. Now, you can dive into your next draft with the necessary knowledge to succeed.
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!