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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.

Siem Reap: Let the Edits Begin

When I first started writing erotica, my writing process went like this—

I would sit down and write a story. I would re-read it and do some light editing. I would spell-check it. Then I would submit it for publication on literotica. Within a few days, the story would be published. Email feedback would roll in. I would bask in my awesomeness. Fin

literotica

The thing about writing for literotica or any of the fan fiction hubs is that there is an audience for everyone. As a new writer, that sort of positive community support and feedback can be so valuable for building confidence, especially if you have a fragile ego.

My most productive period on literotica was when I was a graduate student in New York City. The program was a terrible fit for me. I came to the realization that I didn’t want the career I’d been focused on for years. I was new to the city, shy, broke, and miserable. There were weeks when getting a positive review email from a literotica reader was the only good thing that happened to me.

Looking back at that work, while there are stories that show promise—a scene, a character, an idea—the reality is that they are largely crap. The first reason for that is that I was a baby erotica author–those first steps were full of falls and bruises. I was new to the genre and rusty as a fiction author and it showed. The second reason–and if I’m honest–the bigger reason that those stories suck is that they lacked editing.

editing

After I finished the first draft of Siem Reap, I went over my story page by page, line by line and I worked on it until my eyes were ready to bleed. I tweaked it until I thought I had the best piece of writing I could come up with. Then I sent it out to beta readers, and steeled myself to have those readers point out all the faults I’d become blind to.

The difference between amateur Delilah and professional Delilah is that (a) I believe in editing and (b) I know that “my best” is a starting point far from the finish line.

My”best work” is full of flaws that I can’t see because I live in my character’s heads. I write with an ear for English instead of an in-depth knowledge of grammar, which means my writing suffers from grammar errors I don’t know I’m making. Something I think of as clever may be clever, or it may miss the mark entirely.

edit without mercy

I’ve been very lucky to get feedback from several readers. Some of it has been positive, other bits have been critical.  All of it is useful.

I took a break from Siem Reap largely because of health issues. If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I was hospitalized twice in March due to back and pain management issues.  It’s why I’ve been so absent from the blog–it’s hard to write when the painkillers have you seeing double.

Now that I’m no longer in the hospital, and I’ve begun to rehabilitate my back, I’m ready to dive back into Siem Reap.  I’m trying to look at the forced absence as a positive. The story is not so fresh in my mind, so I have a bit of emotional distance from my characters.  I have valuable feedback to help me revise the story and make it stronger. I’m not so sick of the story that I want to burn it (a real hazard at times).  I’m eager to revisit Meg and RJ and begin the next phase of editing.

april 15

Literotica Delilah would likely have hit publish back in February after the first draft was done. Today’s Delilah is hoping that I will be ready to submit the story by mid-April. Siem Reap is an okay story today.  Thanks to my beta team’s feedback, I think the editing I’m about to do has the potential to make it a great one.