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I'm a big believer in NaNoWriMo and getting a first draft down fast. Such a believer, in fact, that I wrote a book about it! But what about after that crazy-fast draft, when you're left with a fifty-thousand pile of words that don't look nearly as shiny as you'd first imagined them? I'd like to share with you some thoughts from the third section of my book, Fast Fiction, which focus on revision of your fast draft.
1. First of all, whether you reached the official NaNoWriMo finish line of 50,000 words or not, I encourage you to finish your story. Whatever it takes to get to the end of your story arc, do it, even if that means skipping some of the middle bits that you're still not sure about and jumping right into the climactic ending. Get to the end. Have a finished product to work with.
2. Put your novel aside. Don't open the file or book it's in. Don't even look at the file or book it's in for at least two weeks. Get it out of your head so you can come back at it with fresh eyes.
3. When you barely remember what your NaNoWriMo draft was about...that's a great time to come back to work on it. Then, you see, you'll be able to read it almost as a brand new reader would read it. You'll see the flaws. You'll get those butterfly feelings in your stomach from the emotion in your book. You'll be able to sort out plot problems the same way you would if you were watching a movie and picking it apart with your best friend. Put some time aside and read your novel with fresh eyes from beginning to end. Make notes in a separate notebook along the way if you like, but don't start making changes until you've read it through in its entirety. Looking back at the overall flow of the book, what are your observations? Do you see strong points? Weak points? Do you see plot holes that you can think of solutions for? Make notes of those things.
4. Next, go back to the beginning and take the Why Should I Care Test. Read very slowly from the beginning of your manuscript, and think about why an objective reader would care about these brand new (to them) characters and the situations they are in. Would a new reader be hooked by your first sentence? Why or why not? By the first paragraph? If your answer is yes, make sure you have an answer of why (or is it just because you fell in love with your characters after fifty thousand words, and think everyone should be entertained by them getting a cup of coffee?) Can you find some solid reasons why your reader will care within the first chapter? If not, perhaps you can go back and add some conflict. Bring in an opposing character sooner, or take your main character to a more exciting setting. With so many new books being released every day, new novels and authors need to hook the reader within the first chapter, if not within the first page.
5. Once you're sure you'll hook the reader early in your book, it's time to make sure you keep them! Skim through your manuscript and make a list of all the scenes in your book. Make short notes about what happens in each scene, where the conflict for that scene lies, and how each scene furthers the overall plot. Are there some scenes that don't further the overall plot? Perhaps those could be trimmed or combined with other scenes. Now that you have fresh eyes, can you envision scenes that would make the conflict of the overall novel stronger? Add those to your list of scenes, to write when you feel inspired.
Those are a few of my tips on starting to revise your fast NaNoWriMo draft. You can find more in my book Fast Fiction (which is 50% off until December 19th on my publisher's website - just use the code "HOLIDAY" at checkout), or I also highly recommend Kate Messner's book, Real Revision and Cheryl Klein's book, Second Sight.
Do you have any favorite revision tips to get your fast draft into shape? I'd love to hear them!
Denise Jaden's novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon & Schuster 2010), was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007. Her second novel, Never Enough (Simon & Schuster 2012), took about eight years longer. Her first non-fiction book for writers, Writing with a Heavy Heart, includes a variety of clear guidance and practical exercises to help writers get to the heart of their stories. Her second non-fiction book, Fast Fiction (New World Library 2014) includes tips on constructing a story plan that works, as well as daily inspiration to keep writers writing, regardless of when the mood strikes. Her latest young adult novel, Foreign Exchange (Oct. 2014), is being promoted as an Editor’s Pick with Evernight Teen.
Denise spends most of her time home-schooling her young son (who is also a fast-drafter of fiction) and dancing with a professional Polynesian dance troupe.