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First drafts suck and the process of writing a novel

first draft suck

Last week I finished the first draft of the novel version of my short story, Plunder. I wanted a minimum length of 50k and ended up at 42k. There’s so much that needs to be cut or repurposed, like the chapter of exposition. There are secondary characters whose names I lost track of, and ones who need to be fleshed out. There is a lull about two-thirds of the way through after I break up my couple  that needs a lot of work. Tertiary characters flip between being alive and dead because I lost track. It is a jumbled, disorganized mess. But that’s okay.

edit without mercy

The biggest challenge I’ve faced with the novel is the sheer scale of the story.

Where Capturing the Moment had two main characters and two secondary characters, Plunder has two main characters, and tons of secondary characters. The nature of life on a ship means that I had to flesh out some portion of the crew, and with something like seven named secondary characters on two ships, it’s easy to lose track of who is who and what their personalities are.

Plunder is told from Bree’s perspective, unlike Capturing the Moment which showed both Meg and RJ’s points of view. It is very challenging to not tip my hand or give things away before their time. William is an alphahole, but I need my readers to still root for he and Meg to figure things out.

I have realized that in order to effectively edit the novel I need to create

  • a master document wherein I list all the characters and details about each of them
  • a chronological timeline.
  • chapter by chapter summaries–some of the exposition in a later chapter was dealt with in casual conversation earlier.
  • a sexual summary–style, position, allegories I use for orgasm. I don’t want to get repetitive, or miss out on something.

editing

I’m not going to start editing yet. I’m still too close to the story. My plan is to take a few days off, write a short story or two, and start the edits in June. I’ve shared the document in all it’s disastrous glory with my husband, but I will spend a month (or more) polishing it to the best product I can create.

When I wrote Capturing the Moment, I knew that my setting was accurate because I based it on my own visit. As I said in my guest post with F dot Leonora, I’m a photographer like Meg. I had to look up some details about art and the proper name of an instrument, but I was on solid ground. With Plunder, I’m dealing with a foreign time period and selective historical accuracy. The closest I’ve come to being a sailor is working as a costumed guide on the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in college. I know nothing about rigging or the other jobs on a ship in the 17th. Research is only going to get me so far. I’ll need to consult with someone who knows their stuff as Bree is supposed to be a skilled sailor and fix the details I’m bullshitting today.

Once I’m done with edits, my husband will give it one last look. When both of us have signed off on it, I’ll send Plunder to my betas. They’ll need time to read and provide their comments.

During that lull, I’ll work on other projects.

When I have beta feedback, I’ll digest their thoughts and then revise Plunder further. I may send it to one more round of beta support or editorial support. A story is never really “done”–it just reaches the point where you are going to send it in or futz with it forever. I also call this the I keep editing, but now I’m making it worse instead of better. That’s the point where I’ll submit it for publication, and cross my fingers.

pirate 1

What does first draft, unedited hot mess look like? Here’s an example…

She was just about to head back to William’s cabin when it happened. A wave rose up and slapped the Ghost, tippping it starboard. She thought she heard a scream, and looked up in time to see the man from the foretop falling. He hit the gunwhale and slipped off into the sea.

“Man overboard!” Bree screamed, but her words were drowned out by the shrieking wind.

The starboard side of the foresail was unmanned, and began to flap. Bree might not be a pirate, but she was a skilled sailor who knew her rigging. She took a deep breath and dashed over to the ratlines and began to climb. The ropes were slick with rain, and she fought to keep her footing. Once at the crossbar over the foresail, she grabbed a piece of rope and knotted it about her stomach as the missing sailor should have. That would hopefully keep her alive if she fell, and she retied the knots that had gone slack.

The storm was like a living predator, snarling as it attacked its prey. Lighting slashed across the sky. She was soaked to the skin by the drowning rain. Waves tossed the Ghost, water sometimes crashing over the deck. Bree clung to the mast, keeping a close eye on the sail, listening for orders.

Bree prayed that the Maya was safely moored somewhere far from this storm. The thought of losing Marcus and James was unbearable. She looked for William, worried that he, too, might have fallen victim to the storm, but he wasn’t near her, and she couldn’t see the aft of the ship. Her heart twisted, but she remained focused.

The storm quieted, but she knew it was just the eye, and that the eerie calm wouldn’t last.

“Lass!” The pirate above her at the fore topsail called down.

She looked up. “Yes?”

“Can’t decide if you’re brave or dumb as a rock, but good work.”

My thoughts

  • “just” is one the worst offenders when it comes to filler/unnecessary words in my writing
  • Living predator? As opposed to a dead one?
  • I really know nothing about rigging, although I looked up proper names for things online
  • “the man from the foretop falling” what?
  • Would tying a rope around her waist save her if she fell? Really?
  • The storm needs more description. Do more than those few sentences.
  • She cares about Archie, the ship’s boy she befriended as well as Marcus and James

It’s not a bad passage, but it’s a really important one in the story. It needs expansion, more details (including support from someone who knows something about ships and sailing), and other editing support.

Here’s the thing, though. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. I wrote this, so now I have something to edit. In a month or so.

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