Or rather, preparing to revise my first draft.
I finished draft 1.0 of my YA alternate earth novel (which followed on from a very detailed draft 0.5) just over a month ago. It came in at the planned 60,000 words, (a zillion and one articles cite anything between 40,000 and 80,000 as the ideal YA length), it had a beginning, a middle and an end and I thought it was clearly the best thing ever written. At least by me. Ignoring all the received wisdom to put it away for at least a month, I launched straight into draft 2.0.
And stopped dead in my tracks*.
It was impossible. The first sentence alone needed every word changing. And as for the first chapter? Well, I couldn’t get through the first page, let alone the whole book. Clearly I was going about this the wrong way.
Luckily, the feedback for a “highly commended” placing in one of the Winchester Writers Conference competitions showed up at just that moment. It was a highly professional, detailed critique of my first 500 words and it tactfully but thoroughly vivisected them. Clearly the plot wasn’t set up properly, it took too long for anything to actually happen, there was too much detail and yet not enough…
After I stopped crying, I realised that Elizabeth at Fog City Writer was correct and that I was in no position to start work yet. I hadn’t achieved any kind of distance or objectivity. I need to make my book strange, to get myself to the point where I could read my first draft and discover the things I needed to do without my own feelings (or urge to tweak sentence structure to the nth degree) getting in the way. I needed to see my own book through the eyes of a stranger.
So I put it away in a virtual drawer and began to read other YA books. Lots of them. I took Holly Lisle’s invaluable How To Revise A Novel article as a guide and read them as thoroughly and critically as I could. For some of them, I made notes on plot structure, story arc, numbers and POV and the pragmatic logistics of how long particular characters spent doing what. I paid particular attention to age group – was I aiming for 10-12 or 13-14? Or somewhere in the middle? How did novels written targeting girls differ from those targeting boys? (The short answer seemed to be more guns and less kissing. Then I started The Hunger Games and all bets were off).
The best of them made me want to give up. The less good were oddly inspiring – “I can do better than that!” But most of all, I began to understand what at a more visceral level (as opposed to a theoretical level) it was I need to worry about in draft 2:
- Main Character development
- Overall tone
If I can crack the worst of the many issues I have relating to the above, I’ll have something I can feel is ready to circulate amongst my test readers for critique on the same issues. After that, I’ll probably have to start the whole thing over. There’ll certainly be another draft. And another.
Meanwhile, it’s printed out, my red pencil is sharpened and I don’t really recognise my own prose any more. I’m ready to revise.
* If I ever use that phrase in an actual piece of art, shoot me. Really**.
** Unless I’m clearly doing something clever and witty.