Things I think about when I think about redrafting

I’ve been a little quiet of late. I’m trying hard not to distract myself. *SQUIRREL*


I’ve been editing away, trying to make the redraft a better book. I’m about half way through, I’d estimate – a little shy of 48,000 words. For the most part these are new, or at least tweaked. I’m breaking several agents’ rules – writing first person, present tense – but it’s the way I can most comfortably tell this story. It is, after all, the story of me. Or a not-too-far-from-me me, at any rate.

The story has a new title, and a new narrative arc. It still (probably) has too many characters, sub-plots, symbols and grammatical faux pas. But it feels like a better story. I think the motivation of the lead character is a lot more obvious; his eccentricities are more human, and there’s more of a thread to keep people’s attention. I’m tempted to structure it as a ‘write your own adventure’ book, but I suspect this will ultimately fall into the ‘nice idea, but for another day’ category.

The lists of things I think about when I think about redrafting

As I edit, or add new text,I’m trying to make more of an effort to be aware of what has just come before, for the reader’s sake. The process is analogous to mixing paint, but I will usually retreat a few paragraphs from where I want to start, and start editing there instead. The theory is that this will iron out inconsistencies in mood and tempo, as I mix one day’s words with another’s – or, crucially, at least I am more aware of the effect of a change – especially if it’s necessary (eg after an emotional scene I like to put in a descriptive section, which partly shows the character’s state of mind in terms of what he says and how he responds, but also gives the reader a break from too much dialogue).

It’s a theory, anyway.

When I get to the writing proper, I am trying to keep this in mind as I tweak, edit or slash:

  • How does this scene fit into the overall plot? Focus on the main plot – sacrifice micro-plots or things that seemed funny the first time round. Audition each scene. Does it deserve its place in the story? Will it hold me back?
  • How does this scene relate to what the main characters want?
  • Do I need to speed up or slow down? Have I done too many similar-paced scenes on the spin? (I’m using coloured-index cards in Scrivener to give me an instant view of this)
  • Am I using dialogue where reported speech would be more efficient?
  • Am I using character actions enough, or too much? I’m probably overfond of stage directions to indicate mood.
  • Do I need to break up time with a descriptive thought, or sentence. Or use another character to interrupt, or impede?
  • Is what I’m writing credible?
  • Is it natural? No-one’s walked in with the bag marked ‘McGuffin’ too obviously, have they?
  • Have I written this before? I am really rather good at having the same idea several times over several days. Often in neighbouring paragraphs. Have these characters met already – initial descriptions being one of the worst culprits.
  • Lastly, am I writing to amuse myself – ie does the reader really need to know?

There’s another list, which is to do with linguistic tics:

  • Remember that people rarely call each other by name in two-person dialogue.
  • Don’t ‘just’ do things, ‘actually’, ‘really’, or ‘you know’.
  • Watch for slang. I’ve thought long and hard about this, but the American reader will just have to work out what bloody, bollocks and the tube are.  Because obviously that’s the least of their worries.
  • Don’t ‘obviously’. Although I know I have, and it hurts.
  • Check the number of smiles.
  • Check the number of stares, hard or otherwise.
  • Check the units of booze or caffeine.
  • If Tom must stare out of windows and generally be a bit of a moper, help the reader be on his side. Or give them the opportunity to laugh at him. Farce is quite satisfying to write.

I’ve made a couple of colourful mind-maps to try and keep myself on track. I have all my plot points, and decisions to make as to what to keep in or throw out, but the mind map is helping me to focus on what Tom (lead character):

  1. wants – I have four boxes here, these lead to:
  2. what would success look like  – each box has several offshoots, leading to at least one:
  3. what stands in his way – either characters, or situations, or backstory, leading to:
  4. resolutions – how these obstacles are overcome.

Each level is a different colour.  I already have a timeline document of sorts, and I can map most of the 3s and 4s to this timeline. Things that don’t fit either need to go, or I need to resolve them differently, or I need to write into the timeline.

I also did a relationship diagram of all my characters, and used different colours to indicate different things- type of relationship, are they a helper/hinderer, are they incidental or do they advance the plot etc. The colours help to draw people together across the page.

Combined, these drawings have really helped me to boil down the main questions I think that my story needs to answer, in order to make a ‘satisfying’ plot. This is different from ‘what the novel’s about’ as without the eggs, there’s no erm, egg-nog. Not that my book is about egg-nog. Although it is about noggins. And good eggs. And bad eggs.

And lots, and lots, of onions.

I’d welcome any comments….

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