The Power of Revision & Fixing The First Draft

On March 8, 2015 by T.
Image by AbaraiRenji31 @DeviantArt

Image by AbaraiRenji31 @DeviantArt

Revision

Six months ago I finished the first draft of the initial four chapters in The Stave and The Shroud. Feeling very proud of my accomplishments, I decided to share it with a friend who is a real-life editor, knowing that his opinion would somehow confirm the hard work I had put into this draft.

Here’s a rule of thumb – never show your first draft unless you are ready for the criticism. Show your first drafts to close friends and relatives, and they will praise you and glorify your work – that’s motivation you will need to do what’s necessary to your story: revision.

Put your draft away and go watch a great movie, or read a thrilling book to spark some new ideas. Let the draft settle for a couple of weeks, and then re-read it. You will begin to see things jump at you – motivations you need to better explain, dialogue you must tighten, even shifting perspectives or reworking background stories to enrich your scenes.

The Editor

Back to my editor friend. When I approached him, I had worked extensively on my first draft, and was ready for “real” criticism. And he gave it to me, honest feedback. The best thing he did for me was to let me know he didn’t care for my protagonist. As he puts it in his critique, he “… found him to be a bit whiny and listless.” But he immediately suggested solutions to issues he found with the piece, such as “… describing what he wants to do with himself earlier in the chapter would probably go a long way towards fixing this.” He also mentioned that the main character (Teren) didn’t “… feel like he has a whole lot of redeeming qualities.”

Feedback such as this is invaluable for a beginner writer, especially when you are talking about the main character in a story. It gave me focus and something to work on for the following six months.

Fixing The First Draft

To fix the protagonist’s lack of credibility, I shifted the perspective in the first scene to a prominent and respected character (the Earl), and had other secondary characters build the main character up by talking about him. By the time the main character comes in scene, the reader is hopefully intrigued, committed, and wants to know more about him. This was an entire new scene I had not planned to write, which meant I ditched the draft of the first chapter entirely, since I was beginning at an earlier point in time in the story.

I also divided the first three scenes in a logical progression of characterization. In the first scene, secondary characters talked about how they “perceive” the main character as they address the Earl. This helps me build the tension and setting before Teren walks into scene.

On the second scene (when the main character appears), the reader now can see Teren as he “appears” to be. The point of view character is still the Earl, so the reader is finding out through this prominent character how he “sees” Teren. At one point in the scene, there is a shift between how the Earl perceives Teren that goes beyond how he is generally perceived. This shift deepens the Earl’s opinion of him.

As the second scene ends, the reader is now invited to follow the main character. The third scene opens with Teren’s point of view, and the reader begins to truly “get to know” his aspirations, motivations, and how he sees himself.

In 30-odd pages you go from a general perception of the protagonist, to a personal opinion of him, to finally arriving at the deeper internal reality of the protagonist, and the point of view that you (the reader) will follow to the end of the story.

-T

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