You finished your first draft!
As soon as you came down from the adrenaline of typing “The End,” I’m willing to bet that your resistance went into overdrive. You started to sweat, your pulse spiked, and the voices began to whisper “What is this piece of junk anyway?” in your mind.
Stop right there. For your first draft, your only job was to finish it. That’s it. Do you know how many people in the world wish they could say they’ve done what you just did? Do you know how many unfinished manuscripts are out there gathering dust? You’ve actually completed a draft of a novel. It’s real. So go celebrate!
Revisions are where the magic happens.
A lot of writers claim to ‘hate editing,’ and a lot of this angst comes from the fear of looking at their baby first draft and realizing it’s not perfect — but this is unavoidable. It’s impossible to write a perfect first draft.
Early drafts are explorations of the story you want to tell, revisions are where you figure out how to tell it. Let go of your unreasonable expectations for your first draft. It’s a beautiful, raw, presentation of your creativity. Allow it to be that, then let it go, because the next step is to do a high-level analysis of what you wrote and dream up what it can become.
Follow these 5 steps to evaluate your first draft baby and make a plan to turn it into a well-rounded, publishable adult.
1. Find your story point
The very first thing you need to do when analyzing a draft is figure out the point of your story. If you have a character who changes at all in your story, then you’re inevitably making a point, whether it’s intentional or not. The decision made at the story’s climax, and the consequences of that decision, will reveal something about what you (the author) believe.
A story point is a one-line belief about how the world works. For example, the point of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is ‘Love can overcome obstacles of class.’ The point of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is ‘There is no room for honor in the game for power’ and the point of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is ‘Your power lies in your hands, and yours only.’
Your story point may not be clear in your first draft, or maybe you sense that you’re trying to make several points. The key to a strong revision is nailing the story point that you want to drive your story, so you can use it to clarify how you’re going to revise. If you’re still unclear about what a story point is, or how to determine it, check out What’s your point? or this Instagram Live episode.
2. Identify your character’s inner obstacle
Once you know your story point, you need to make sure that it’s aligned with your character’s arc — the internal change they’ll go through during the story.
To start, identify your main character’s inner obstacle — the misbelief, lie, or false worldview that they’re struggling against. It’s the thing they must unlearn, or overcome, at the end of the story. It should be in contrast to the story point, because by overcoming it (or failing to) they will make the story point.
For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy Bennet struggles with a belief that ‘wealth makes people arrogant.’ When she apologizes to Mr. Darcy at the end, after realizing she was wrong, she proves the story point that ‘Love can overcome obstacles of class.’
In looking at your story, identify what inner struggle your character is facing. Is that obstacle in conflict with your story point? If your character doesn’t seem to have an internal struggle, take a look at your story point and see if you could create one for them that’s in conflict with the story point you’re trying to make — something they can fight against throughout the book.
3. Determine where the story starts and ends
Because the inner obstacle is the core of your character’s arc, use it to determine if you’re starting and ending the story in the right place.
Where to Start: The story should start when the character is forced to confront their inner obstacle in a serious way for the first time. For example, Pride and Prejudice opens with the attractive (and wealthy) Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy coming to town. When they catch Lizzy and her sister’s eyes, Lizzy is forced to confront her belief that all wealthy people are selfish.
Where to End: The story then ends when the main character proves they’ve overcome their inner obstacle at the climax. For example, Pride and Prejudice ends with Lizzy Bennet realizing that she was wrong in her judgements of Mr. Darcy all along. When she apologizes to him she proves that she’s overcome her prejudice toward wealthy people.
Identify where, in your draft, your character confronts their inner obstacle for the first time — this is where your story should begin! Anything before that is unnecessary. Then, identify (or plan, if you don’t have it yet) the scene at the end of the story when your character makes a decision that proves they’ve overcome (or failed to overcome) their inner obstacle — that’s where the story ends! (For more on this, see How to use your point to determine your climax).
4. Map your draft to an outline
Now that you know your story’s point, your character’s inner obstacle, and where you need to start and end, find a story plot outlining tool that works for you.
Some plot outlining tools we’ve used and loved include:
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
- The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
- Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
Once you’ve picked an outlining tool, take stock of the scenes you already have in your draft and map them to the various spots in the outline. This may be a bit emotional because as you map you’ll realize that some scenes need to be tweaked, added, or even cut in order to fit their roles. Don’t get discouraged. This is a critical part of the process, and when it feels overwhelming, remember — every change you make will improve your story. What’s not thrilling about that!?
5. Evaluate Scene Decisions
You have an outline! Congrats! You’ve already come so far in your revision planning. Now, before you jump into rewriting, it can be extremely useful to take a deeper look at each scene you plan to write and ensure that each one has:
- A goal
- A choice
In order for your story to engage readers, each scene needs to be driven by a character goal and end with a difficult choice that has long-lasting consequences. Pro tip! Try to make every scene’s choice pit your character against their inner obstacle in some way, since that struggle is the core of your story. For more on this, check out our blog on How to Structure Scenes.
You’ve got a revisions plan now! Take a deep breath, and dive in. Revel in the joy of improvement, rather than the shame that you didn’t ‘get it right’ the first time or the grief of what you have to change. This is where the magic of your story will come alive!
NOTE: If you get lost in this process, or begin to feel overwhelmed or discouraged, the best thing you can do is turn outward instead of inward. As book coaches and editors, we can guide you through this revisions process. Together, we can come up with a plan so you’re never directionless or feel alone. If this is of interest, schedule a FREE 30-min call with us today! Let us help you grow that next draft with confidence.
This story was first published at goldenmayediting.com. We provide book coaching & editing to fiction writers. If you’re interested in our other blog posts or in checking out our services please visit us there!