5 Common Mistakes of a First Draft
5 Common Mistakes of a First Draft
by T.M. Wallace
I remember the elation I felt upon completing my first draft. It had taken me hours to write – many momentous hours spent in the very different world I had created for my characters. My characters and I were now fast friends, having gone through so much together. We had explored new terrain and bravely fought the forces of evil. How could that first draft be anything less than a masterpiece of fine literature? Well, it could. And it was.
Rejections from editors, as well as simply time away from that first draft, showed me that I still had a long way to go before I had a publishable draft. One of the most helpful things for me, once the honeymoon period was over, was joining an online critique group made up of other writers. Most of them were working on a first novel, too. Reading over their work and having to pick out what worked and what didn’t, was extremely helpful. Getting their feedback on my own work was also eye-opening. With their help, the quality of my writing improved immensely in a very short time. Now that I am a published author, I am happy to share what I have learned about first drafts with other budding authors.
Here are five of the most common mistakes of a first draft:
- “Show, Don’t Tell:” This old adage is very tricky to learn but also vital to a good book. When editors tell an author to “show don’t tell” they are talking about limiting the amount of “expository writing,” where the omniscient narrator tells the story as though from a distance. My critique group buddies helped me see that I was guilty of a lot of this. They had me re-write the beginning of the story where it sounded like a distant story-teller was telling a series of events, and instead tell the story through the mind of my main character. I re-wrote the beginning, focusing on revealing the back-story slowly, through descriptions of what that main character could see, hear, feel, think and do. When I did that, the difference was amazing. I could see how the reader would feel more connected to the character, more connected to the place and events that the character experienced.
- Begin “In Medias Res.”Put us in the middle of the action as soon as possible.
- Spend Time World-building. Particularly with fantasy and science fiction novels, think about how your fictional world is different than our world, and make those differences stand out more. Readers delight in reading about a place very different, though comparable to our own. Don’t just make name changes or other cosmetic changes. Go further with the differences and describe these in detail. These are a part of what will make your novel unique and memorable.
- Create Fully-Developed Characters. Make characters more real to the reader: give them detailed personalities, quirks, particular ways of speaking or acting. A good exercise is to write a character sheet for each character and outline their likes and dislikes for your own benefit. Then revise dialogue and descriptions with these in mind. Remember though, don’t describe the characters with a lot of expository text. Instead, pepper their speech, actions or thoughts (interior monologue) with their unique peculiarities or give us a view of a character through another character’s eyes.
- Clean-up Grammar and Spelling errors: This seems obvious, but many writers feel that it’s the editor’s job to worry about spelling and grammar. The truth is, most editors want a manuscript that is mostly error-free. Be professional: make sure yours is!
T. M. Wallace lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and four children. At eight years old, she won a short story contest and was published in a local newspaper. She wrote her first book at ten years old called “The Adventures of Pinkstar,” about a stuffed rabbit who magically comes to life. T. M. Wallace received her Master’s degree in English Literature from Carleton University and a degree in Education from the University of Ottawa. In 2010 her latest book, Under A Fairy Moon, was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel awards. Under A Fairy Moon will be published by Brownridge Publishing in June, 2011.
You can visit her website at www.tmwallace.com.