Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Aftermath

I'm close to finishing the first draft of my current novel. Working title: Exodus. 

How does it feel - great, but... at the moment I don't dare to look back. I have the feeling, that it would be the same view as a bull would have, when he looked back at the china store he just walked through.

This is also the check for being a discovery writer - you actually back-load the work.

So let's have a look at the next steps.

1. Put the story away
First, I have to give the story a rest. I let it go until I almost don't remember what I've written. This could be everything from a couple of weeks up to three month or even more. I work on something else in the meantime, short stories or a new novel. This first step is crucial, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to gain the necessary distance, and to approach the story with fresh eyes. But why? Well, right after I've finished my story, I'm in love with it and I'd never doubt that. Distance gives me perspective as well as a sense of realism with regards to what I've written.

2. High level concept review
When I pick up the story again after some time, I start the review/editing top-down. Does the story work? Where are the plot points and are they at the right place? 

For that, I use the shrunken manuscript method. I change the font a very small, but still readable size (4 - 6), so the number of pages is reduced. Then I print the whole story mark the important points and lay it out on the flor. I also mark the appearance of the different characters/viewpoints with different colors. This method helps me to immediately see any disproportion.

The result of this step is a list of necessary changes to chapters or scenes and where I probably need to add or remove parts.

3. Brainstorm Read-through(s)
As a next step I read through my story as if I were a reader and take notes of what jumps into my eyes. Additionally I emphasize on the following points:

  • are all loose ends tied-up
  • what promises do I make and do I keep all of them
  • are the main and side characters consistent
  • do I have side characters, which just disappear
  • which parts of the plot twists do I have to foreshadow
  • etc

All these questions are still related to the story structure and the concept. Basically, the story has to work. The result is again a list of scenes/parts to be removed, changed, or added.

4. Rewrite
This is probably the most cumbersome part. I have to implement the changes out of step 2 and 3, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I write new scenes, change existing scenes. Sometimes I even have to introduce complete new story strings or characters.

5. Repeat Step 1 - 4
After having rewritten all parts, I need to go back again to step 1 and repeat this cycle as many times as needed until the story ties. At this stage I also start including beta readers, probably right after the first iteration.

6. Rewrite Scenes
Until now, every step was to ensure the story ties up. Now, it is about the beauty of the craft. I will read through every scene and try to shape it. All those guidelines, like "show, don't tell" or "use all five senses" to let the scene become alive, come in handy. There is so much about the how, I probably have to dedicate an own blog posts about this topic alone. Nevertheless, this step is not anymore about the story structure, but about the techniques how to draw the reader into the story and keep him reading.

As an additional difficulty, I will have to look up all German-blended expressions and correct them. I expect a lot of them. As an example, I used the term elephant in a china store in this blog instead of a bull in a china store.

7. Copy-editing
The borders between rewriting scenes and editing as well as editing and proofreading are fluid. Editing in my understanding takes care about mistakes and sentences, while working directly in the document. It might include rewriting certain sentences, but most of the time it is about correction words and mistakes.

8. Proofreading
Last but not least comes the proofreading. This like a last step of quality assurance. I print the manuscript, grab a pencil and read line by line, forth and back. Yes, I meant back. As our brain is used to read economically, it actually doesn't read a word, it recognizes it. The disadvantage of this is, that we read over errors without seeing them. By reading a text from the back, we can prevent us from falling into that trap.

9. Alpha readers
At this point, I have done everything possible in my hands to submit your story to a greater audience: The alpha readers. They will come back with feedback and yes, as soon as they come back, I will have to start with step 2 - for the sake of the story. 

Happy reviewing and rewriting
Your writer in a foreign land

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