Yay! Nanowrimo is over. Congratulations to all those who reached 50K! I managed to scrape over the finishing line on Sunday night and what a relief it was, too. But as I mentioned in my last post, despite reaching a 50K word count, Ghazal is still very much incomplete. But not for long. I’m devoting the whole of December to getting it finished and then it’s on to tackling the first stage of revisions.
Because Ghazal was based on a series of random word and photo prompts, it’s also a bit of a mess (read "total disaster area.") I have a lot of work to do and the following checklist is what needs to be done before I can move on to rewriting and wordsmithing.
1. Make sure this first draft is really finished. No matter how full of loose ends, blank space, and dangling heroines I may end up with—I want to do my best to tell a complete story. It’s too easy to hide the manuscript away because I don’t know where the story is going, and rewriting too soon or before I reach the end is a sure way to never get there. So I want to keep writing for a few weeks.
2. As soon as I know I truly have reached “The End” the first thing I want to do is analyze and flesh out my characters: who are they, do they have their correct names, where do they live, and why do I care about them? This will be the time I write up their biographies and detailed back stories, merge some secondary characters into one, and even get rid of some altogether.
3. Conflict. Do I have enough? I always ask myself three questions: What is the outer story conflict? What is the inner story conflict? And how are they resolved? Knowing the answer to these three will automatically write the bulk of my synopsis for me.
4. Setting, or is my story really where I want it to be? Why did I choose these particular locales? If you’re like me and have written huge blocks of description to help boost your word count, hey—keep those descriptions handy! What you want to do is separate them from the places where they are slowing down your action and set them aside for later. When you begin your serious page-by-page rewrite you can then chop them up and sprinkle in a few lines at a time to add color and context to your various scenes.
4. Research. I’ll make a list of everything I need to find out and where I need to go to get this information.
5. Details. Highlight all those wonderful and unique details and look for story symbols: e.g., an old umbrella, a favorite book, a child’s blanket. Items such as these can represent the story theme and should never be overlooked as “minor.” Note: If you can’t find a story symbol in the pages you’ve written or you don’t like the ones you do have, make at least one up now. Story symbols can be the basis of some of your most poignant and/or important scenes.
6. Search for a theme. Themes used to give me a lot of trouble. I never wanted to think of them, probably a leftover from being assigned too many uninspired school essays or cringing from the smug little morals at the end of clichéd children’s books. But I’ve since discovered that a good theme is simply what your characters, especially your main characters, have learned in the course of the story. The trick is to not make it obvious, with someone saying at the end of the book: “And I’ll never play with matches again!”
7. My final task is to decide on my genre. Once again, because Nanowrimo is based on writing like crazy to achieve a desired word count, it’s easy to mesh and confuse genres to the point of absurdity. Now is the time to figure out where my book will fit on a bookstore shelf. I want to say “literary” but I find I’m more drawn to “experimental” or even “graphic novel” because I’m playing with the idea of including artwork. The point is to find and settle on one genre that best describes the book and to then focus all future rewriting toward that market. Once that’s done I’ll be changing or eliminating any scenes and chapters that no longer serve that genre.
Tip of the Day: The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript is my book designed to go with my series of writing workshops. Much of the book covers how to organize and plan your writing along the same lines I’ve discussed above: e.g., creating character bios, finding the conflict in your manuscript, and going to market. In many ways it's an entire workshop in a book. Check out a copy today!