One of the biggest mistakes I made as a new writer was to revise my manuscript as I went along. It took me months just to get through the first chapter – which was only ten pages! When you are writing your first draft make a plan (even a simple one will do), write and don’t look back. Don’t even stop to fix spelling mistakes. Will it be bad? Yes! Will you need to change, add and delete a lot? Definitely. That’s what a first draft is – your first version of the story you want to tell. Once you are done getting everything down, now is the time to edit your work by evaluating characters and plot. Self-editing lets you address story issues even before you ask someone to read your manuscript. Here are five questions to help you with character- and plot-shaping:
- Did you force your protagonist out of his comfort zone at crucial moments? In other words, did your main character experience situations that challenged them to move forward the plot and their own development?
- Has each obstacle pushed the plot and characters forward? Your characters should have fears, flaws, desire and needs that force them to make decisions in situations that bring emotional and sometimes physical pain. Put believable obstacles in the way for your plot and characters so there can be progression for the story and the main character.
- Are the consequences of failure dire enough at each stage of the plot? You want your reader to be on the edge of their seat having trouble putting that book down hoping the main character will make it through yet one more difficulty. The best way to do that is to have the character try and fail or try and succeed only to have things go even more awry.
- Does each scene in each chapter contribute to its chapter’s overall goal, and does every chapter contribute to the character’s achievement of his story goal? Make sure that even if the story takes strange twists that the main character’s goal is always present.
- If you take your protagonist as he is in the final scene and drop him back into the first scene of the story, has he matured enough to handle the initial conflict so well this time around that your novel wouldn’t even be necessary? This is why it is important to finish your first draft. You have to have a progression that can be seen from beginning to end to show character growth – that’s why we love to read.
I was once told that you can’t know where to start your story until you know the end, and I really believe that is true. Always keep the five points in mind when you’re planning and writing your first draft but be sure there present when your editing and before you give it to someone else to read.