Tips on Writing Fiction: Part 1 – Finishing that first draft
Tips on Writing Fiction
After the release of my second novel Roland, which you can purchase on Amazon Kindle, I thought it a great idea to write a short series articles on the writing process itself. After about a decade spent as a writer I think I have something to offer other prospective writer’s. So far I have published two novels, two novella’s, half dozen short stories and a book on Linux. These tips will mostly be useful for writing fiction, but I can tell you writing a Computer Science book is no mean feat either.
As I said this will be a series on writing fiction. I am not certain how long the series – Tips on Writing Fiction – will be, perhaps 3 or 4 articles. This article will try and get you started on writing, but it won’t yet cover technical aspects such as character point of view, character voice or the creation of scenes. Those topics are important and will be covered in subsequent posts. So do come back over the coming period.
In the beginning…
So let’s get started. You may already have in mind a story and perhaps you already wrote some paragraphs or pages. That is certainly a good start, but quickly there will come a moment when you need to work in a more structured method. There are four issues I want to discuss in this article: your writing schedule, that all important first draft, redrafting and cutting material.
Set a writing schedule and keep to it
Writing is laborious work. If like me you work on a desktop computer (and a laptop) it is easy to get distracted. There is plenty to read and watch on the internet. You’re going to have to set writing goals. Some authors say you can’t force the writing process as it is creative. I disagree, you get creative when you start writing. So set goals and stick to them. After you have set goals plan accordingly.
When I write a story I try to determine the pace I think I can write. I never work on just one project. Usually its two or more, a full length novel and short stories. The latter I use because they are easier goals to achieve and keep me motivated. If you have an idea on how your story will unfold than write it down. The next step is to chop it into pieces. I divide my projects into weeks. Depending on the speed I write my first draft is ready in 10 to 20 weeks.
When you have set your goals you need to start writing. Write whenever you like, but keep in mind that by the end of the week the work needs to have been done. It doesn’t have to be perfect, certainly not with a first draft. I also avoid taking any kind of downtime from writing. It is just too hard to get going again. You simply become too rested. If you want to take it easy, write something else. Writing a short story in a more languished pace is what I call a break. Short stories are easily attainable goals. They are also good practice because of their limited word count. After you have finished you can get going writing that full length novel.
Finish a first draft as quickly as you can
Unlike what you may be thinking your story is already a novel even if it is not yet published. One of the first worries is that you think you will never finish writing the story. If you keep thinking this it will demotivate you. The writing schedule helps, but what is also important is the ability to say that the story is done.
After writing about a third of a story I get a sense of how and when it will end. So you need to keep writing. You need to write 10 pages, then you need to write a third of the story and then you need to finish it. After all the story is not set in stone. You can always make improvements. That does not mean you should type away like a mad person. If you do good work that will save time later, but don’t get bogged down in details. If this happens it is no doubt your inner voice holding you back. After you have finished the first draft you have taken the most difficult hurdle.
Redrafting is essential and needs to be planned
After finishing the first draft the story needs to be improved. This means reading over your work and rewriting it. This is not just removing typos, that also needs to be done. Instead, redrafting focuses on grammar (removing passive voice), check plot consistency, character consistency and the general enticement to read the story.
However, you cannot do everything in one draft. You will need to set goals. Read your story and write down what you don’t like. Are the characters stilted or bland? Write a short character biography. Try to give each character a unique voice and force them into conflict. Is the general plot of the story not as clever as you hoped it would be? Write a plot outline for the story and then rewrite it into something you want from the story. Try to incorporate your character bio’s and story setting into this plot outline. Afterwards redrafting chapter by chapter will go a lot easier. You have after all a goal in mind. You may lament the fact you have written a shoddy first draft but that is a necessary evil. Things is, you are never going to get it right the first time, certainly not with a full length novel.
One of the most important aspects of drafting is removing the passive voice as much as possible. Examples include sentences containing phrases such as ‘has been walking’ and ‘would have been written’. Change this into ‘has walked’ and ‘would have written’. Spotting these mistakes can be difficult. There are however plenty of tools online, I prefer editMinion.
Don’t be afraid to cut things that don’t work
After finishing your first draft you will quickly notice the work does not match the quality of professional authors. Often the plot feels forced or just dull. The same can be said for the characters. Yet changing things around can be hard. You have come to love your characters, and creating those plot lines was hard work. I am afraid to say you will probably need to make extensive cuts. Too much background information can seriously slow a story down. Science Fiction authors such as Alastair Reynolds have lamented that almost every time they write they fall into this trap. Almost always they need to cut 30 to 40 thousand words from the first half of the story just to keep momentum. That is hard, but it needs to be done. As the saying goes, less is more.
Also describing every single character action can be tedious. I do it naturally. In the back of my mind my characters needs to go through the motions of walking, talking, reloading a handgun just to be real. If you are redrafting try to cut as much of this as you can. Set that as a goal for third draft, after you have altered the major plot lines and characters during the second draft. The end result should be easy to read and not bore the audience.
In the next article on writing tips I will discuss the technical aspects of writing. I will detail the character viewpoint and the creation of a scene. Writing fiction can be a lonely process. There are plenty of online forums with interesting discussions. Check out SFFWorld for instance. This was it for my first article for the Tips on Writing Fiction series.