July 4th is upon us, and for me it’s a date I use I measure my writing progress. As a self-employed person, I have no one to push me forward except myself, so I try to create internal as well as external deadlines. July 4th is a day with powerful meaning, so it’s one of my trail markers.
I recently finished a four-day writing retreat at the beach, and as I review my new novel’s progress, I am cautiously pleased: I have made my deadline and am almost ready to create a draft that will read like the finished version. That does not mean the scenes will not have to be reworked or the prose edited, but at least the foundation of the “house” of my book will be set. At that point I will prepare an outline and use it to create a list of what must be written.
In my method, I make an outline only after I write the first or second draft; this is because I prefer an organic development process to a formulaic one. Although novels can be more flexible, screenplays are highly structured, and so I would never consider writing one without an outline. I am not outlining this first draft of my novel, however, because I want to find the shape as I part of the creative process. This can be very painful and is not for the faint of heart, but I find the results much more rewarding.
By following the process I wrote about in last week’s blog, I moved quickly through the first step mentioned, which was to read my draft straight through and then answer these questions:
- Does each character have a distinctive and unique “voice”?
- Does each character feel “real”? Or do they require more development?
- Are my secondary characters consistent? Do they need additional fleshing out?
- Have I given all my characters the right name?
- Is it clear who the antagonists are?
- Is there suspense? Is it for the right reasons?
- Is there enough of the right kinds of description? Or is it lacking?
- Are the funny situations funny in the ways I had hoped?
- Is the dialogue sharp and distinctive?
- Does my heroine’s initial level of personal awareness leave room for her to grow and change throughout the story?
- What is my rewriting schedule going to be?
After four days, I got some answers and some new questions, which is what I was hoping for. In addition I was able to cut out almost 50 pages. Twenty-five or so will likely find their way back in, but at least now I have space. I can see the foundational structure the novel wants to take. By using the Mythic Journey Map® from my 10 Weeks book, I have a clear sense of where each major event goes, whether I have written it or not. There are two major turning points that are still missing, but I know I will find them. The notion that nature abhors a vacuum is true in my experience. By identifying the holes in the story, my creative intelligence will quickly fill them in.
As to answering the questions, here are some answers:
- Yes, the voices are working.
- Yes, for the most part the characters do feel real.
- Yes, my secondary characters are consistent, though I need a few more.
- No, names must be changed.
- Yes, the villain of the piece is very clear—and a surprise.
- No, not yet enough suspense, but I can see how to create it.
- No, more description is needed throughout.
- Not sure about this yet, though I made myself laugh a few times.
- The dialogue is okay but needs work.
- No, she must be more vulnerable. This is where most of the work lies.
- Have booked the next month for this purpose.
By next week, I hope to have made more progress and to report on it here. Please let me know if you are working on a rewrite of your own. I would love to hear about your process.
Here’s to your successful writing,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz