Almost exactly six months ago I finished draft 4.
And then I put the novel on a shelf.
On the one hand, boo!
On the other hand, I’ve got an excuse: those six months were sort of busy.
During that half year I:
- worked with a half dozen different contractors to prepare my Massachusetts house for sale
- juggled three different offers (one of which fell through)
- sold the house
- bought a 56 acre farm in New Hampshire
- packed up everything I owned, including a 450 ft^2 workshop
- loaded one large PODS and helped movers load TWO large moving trucks
- unpacked it all into a new house
- bought a tractor and used it to clear my 200 yard dirt road of four feet of snow
- learned to operate a log splitter
- chainsawed almost 7 cords of firewood
- purchased goats
- installed electric fencing,
- made new friends,
- sent my draft 4 off to Famous Novelist for paid coaching feedback
- got comments back from Famous Novelist
…and most recently:
I started draft five.
That was 13 days ago.
So far progress is good. I’m averaging just over 3,000 words revised per day. At this rate the entire task will take 100 days, and I’m already 13 days in – just 87 more days to go!
As one might hope, the successive drafts have been focusing on successively finer grained aspects. First draft was about getting the story down. Second draft was about fixing massive plot problems. Third draft filled in holes and gave characters actuall…character. And so on.
And now fifth draft is polishing the prose, tightening up the paragraphs, making the sentences – if not shine, exactly – at least have a bit of economy and less flabbiness.
I boiled down Famouse Novelist’s feedback to a few key points, a quick document that I can read and re-read before each and every mornings’ session of revision.
My eight biggest problems (and the tools I use to fix them):
1) bookish diction tool: read for things that sound nerdy / literary; remove
2) buried plot critical scenes – big emotional impact needs a large number of words; I often don’t use enough words tools:
1) describe at greater length
2) change details as needed: “it takes longer to beat a guy to death with a shovel than to shoot him”
3) spend time on the reaction shot
4) do the after effects first, place action in a flashback
3) favorite words tool: cut down on use of burst out (for “exclaimed” or “blurted”), drift, float, grab, grin, grunt, narrow (down or eyes), nod, roar, scream, shake
4) curtain lines are a weird mix, and don’t show any deliberation tool: 1) read curtain lines, think about what you’re trying to accomplish
5) high detail density: tools:
1) cut details back
2) redundancy of action
break things into steps, interleave actions, reminiscences, thoughts
– show descriptive detail as a basis for decisions rather just observed details
– concentrate on getting action scenes “clear continuous place and time”; rest falls out
3) move some detail to nearby expository paragraphs
6) Unnecessary auxiliary verbs of starting e.g.
“Mike began to run” –> “Mike ran”
“The stars began to go out” –> “The stars went out”
7) Unnecessary prepositions with verbs e.g. “lifted up” –> “lifted”
“climbed to” –> “climbed”
8) Very long expositions of fairly simple human interactions
tools: pretend you’re writing a screenplay: show the actions, the reader can figure out the internal motivations