I so wanted to finish my M/M fantasy story by September. (I mentioned that story here, along with my hundred other WIPs.)
Well, it’s September, and I just typed the last scene. Yay!
So does this mean it’s done?
Not so fast.
I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who write something awesome on their first try. But that’s not me. My first draft is more like a junior high goth girl decided to write a short story in her skull-and-crossbones Trapper Keeper. (Yes, that junior high goth girl was me.)
My first drafts are full of inconsistencies, repetition, grammatical errors – you name it, I’ve got it.
In short, they’re a hot mess.
To get to the point where I feel even somewhat comfortable sharing my work, I’ve got to go through some major steps.
Those inconsistencies I mentioned? That character whose name is [D??], or the dragon that comes out of nowhere in the last scene?
Yeah, this is when I need to clean those puppies up. Roughly, I look for these things:
Do the same characters have the same name? For the whole story? Even the minor character with exactly two appearances, on page three and page forty-seven?
What about seasons? If it’s winter, I shouldn’t have a window open. If the castle uses torches and candles, I can’t describe a room at night the same way I’d describe a room during the day.
If there’s a big reveal coming up at the end of the story, I need to make sure I’ve dropped enough hints so this doesn’t come completely out of the blue.
Also, if I’ve built something or someone up, now’s the time to make sure I didn’t just drop them like a hot rock.
Cut, Baby, Cut!
And finally, the most painful part.
Yes, it hurts to kill those darling. But I try to take a really critical look at my piece and ask myself what scenes just aren’t working. What’s too slow? What doesn’t contribute to the plot, or raise the stakes, or help to develop the characters?
In short, who’s got to go?
After revising and cutting, I’m ready for…
In addition to typos, this was a great way to catch words and expressions I’d repeated, and lines or descriptions that didn’t fit my characters. It was painful, but it made for a much better novel.
So Now is it Done?
Still a hard call. I’ve read Anthony Doerr spent ten years on All the Light We Cannot See (and it’s a freaking masterpiece, so that clearly worked out for him).
Any work of art can probably be tweaked, adjusted, and perfected indefinitely. It’s not like building a table. There’s no single point where you can step back and say, “Hey! A table!”
For me, I usually call it when any combination of these three things happen:
1.I’m so sick of it I can’t look at it anymore.
2. I decide everything I’ve ever written is terrible, and everything anyone has ever written is terrible, and literature can’t capture the truth of the human experience, and I need some wine.
3. There’s a deadline.
I’m planning to submit this current story (The Night Watch) here, so my deadline is September 30.
It’ll be done by then.
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