Once More Unto the Breach

Christmas is only two days away so my first suggestion to all aspiring writers is to buy and give Australian books to friends and family as presents and help our local writers continue to write our stories for us.

It’s also that time of year when aspiring writers dust off that manuscript to freshen it up over the Christmas break before sending on to agents and publishers in the new year. And some of those who signed on to NaNoWriMo might also now realise that their busy November failed to produce anything that’s working at all. It happens. There will still, however, be things within that first draft that are worth harvesting for the second.

I’ve written in previous blogs that the tippy-tapping on keyboards can be heard around the country in January. But before you start rewriting – which you certainly must do – first sit down with a pad, pencil and Post-it notes and reread your manuscript making notes as you go.

Don’t read it on screen, read it on paper.

And resist all twitchy urges to return to the computer to fiddle with things. Trust me, it needs more than that.

Once you’ve given it a careful, uninterrupted read-through you should have identified places where things just aren’t working. These may include a host of things such as: not enough happens in Act II, the narrative pace is too slow, character reveals are insufficient, the dialogue is all wrong, there isn’t a sufficient payoff for the reader.

In fact, here’s my basic checklist:

• Is your opening chapter sufficiently compelling?            

• Have you been sparing enough with the back story? Especially in the first 30–50 pages?                

• Is there enough dialogue on the page?                             

• Are there surprises in the mss?                                         

• Is there enough story?

•  Does more need to happen (especially in Act II)?

• Is there too much story? (Are there too many subplots or too many characters?)

• Is your location/setting being utilised enough?                          

• Are the stakes raised sufficiently for the main character?          

• Are we emotionally involved in the fate of the main character?

• Is your main character likeable? (If not, are we still interested in her fate?)                                               

• Is the language (register and vocabulary) appropriate?           

• Have you pruned empty phrases and words (especially adverbs and adjectives)?                                        

• Do you have a satisfying/shocking climax?                                   

• Is there a payoff for the reader?        

Do take a look at earlier posts which focus on this stage of writing and what to keep in mind. Happy holidays and happy reading before the rewriting.

(Apologies for the long absence but the past few months have been especially busy.)