Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

BookEditingThere is no scientific consensus on when to stop revising a first draft and how to move into a second. Stephen King mentions it in his “On Writing” (and I find I’m the same), that he’s the kind of writer who always wants to add things into his stories.

That’s probably a good place to stop your first draft and go into your second.

Here are the ideas I had for moving from a first draft to a second:

1. You’re done adding elements to your story.

The first draft is where you add things, where you add your foreshadowing, your themes between chapters, your exposition, etc. Hit your points and once you’re done, that’s it. There’s a time to stop and a time to move on. In this case, hit what you need to and move on.

2. Read it for consistency.

The truth is, a first draft is never good enough. Oh, if you’re Hemingway or something you can try to get away with it, but chances are you need to make revisions.

And every writer needs to read what he or she has written.

3. Make sure it flows.

I would make this your last chance to add anything. A good bit of advice I got early on was to add or move elements so that the story hits something important every three chapters.

4. Begin removing the unnecessary.

Clunky dialogue, exposition that feels forced, and any number of added elements can be removed to make it flow. There’s some great books on how to do this, but just know it’s important to stop adding things and start taking them away.

A good rule of thumb is to remove about 10% of the word count. For long science fiction stories (my forte) you can go from 120,000 words to 108,000-ish.

Also remember, with this, to show don’t tell. That means a ton of what you have in narrative form shouldn’t be telling your reader what to think, but leading them to think it.


 

You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow my on Twitter and Instagram!

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Finding Your Writing Style

StateLibQld_2_171951_Intimate_portrait_of_a_man_writing_a_letter,_1900-1910When we talk about “style” in regards to writing, it’s often understood to stand related to “voice”, “tone” or even “structure”. In reality, it’s a nebulous idea, springing forth from readers and writers alike with no concrete definition.

You know what it is to have a specific style, but it’s hard to nail down.

Here are some bits of advice I came up with to help you find your own unique style:

1. Read Authors You Like

This seems simple enough, but a word of caution: if you try to mimic another author’s style it could end up disastrous. It’s good to learn from the authors you love, but if you create a voice that’s an amalgamation of their word-choice and tone it could come off as forced. That leads to the next idea…

2. Sound Natural

Don’t try to sound overly intellectual, or overly relaxed. If you are an intellectual, embrace it as who you are. This idea is important, but it’s said so often as to be meaningless: fake it until you make it.

It’s reasonable to sounds as you are, and if you think you sound awful, continue trying. As long as you’re true to yourself, how you write doesn’t matter. Eventually, creme rises to the top.

3. Work on Word Choice

If you lack a wide range of words to choose from, then you lack the tools to construct a story that is truly your own. You must, must, must, must, MUST, work on vocabulary! It’s pertinent for all starting authors to get that under their belt, or they will find a lot of creativity with no ability to construct a sentence.

If you have a lot of words to choose from, then you’ll have the ability to choose how you want to sound. That’s how it works!

4. Write

How can you find your writing style if you don’t write? Continually improving yourself is the only way to improve your writing. That includes vocabulary, as I mentioned, and actually writing.


I hope that helps! You may enjoy some of my other writing posts:

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

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My background was originally in philosophy. Science fiction, while my preferred fiction choice, wasn’t what I wanted to do in college. I pushed myself to study philosophy because I found the ideas interesting. Yet, the career prospects were null and the hobbyist possibilities the same.

In thinking about philosophy in science fiction I think about the short story from the July 2017 issue of Apex magazine: The Turing Machines of Babel by Eric Schwitzgebel.

One day I may review the short story, but I mentioned the story on my twitter account. In the mean time, let’s talk about philosophy in science fiction. There are a few possible ways to incorporate a philosophical question:

  • 1. Directly asking the question.

You could, simply, have a character wake up one day and ask, “is there a god?”

It’s been done to death and often feels forced, but it’s a possibility.

  • 2. Indirectly answering the question.

Instead of making your main character or side characters ask the question, have them deal with an outsider who wonders about why they do a certain thing, which is tangentially related. So, instead of asking “is there a god?” you could have an observer watch the characters perform their actions and ask “do they do this for their gods?” Make it assumptive, and instead of answering the question of “is there a god?” we deal with the moral argument for god’s existence, for example.

  • 3. Showing a world where the question isn’t asked.

If you want to explore the question “how do you know what you know?” Then show a world where it’s all just assumed and no one questions themselves. In this way, you create a reality in the mind of the reader that you can explore and confront. How do these characters know what they know? Is that right?

  • 4. Showing a world that explains the question and your answer.

This is how The Turing Machines of Babel did it, in my opinion. The universe was explored in the story, with its explanations and questions all laid out in how the universe was constructed. Coming to that universe was the main character, and everything was explained through his research and understanding.


 

Well that’s a few examples and suggestions. I hope it helps!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and check out some of my other blog posts:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

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It’s hard to tell when your writing is getting better. I’ve previously suffered from a plateau effect in my writing ability. Whether it’s vocabulary issues, pacing problems, or lack of emotion, I feel like my work is always flawed.

But then, there’s no perfect manuscript.

So I wondered… how do you know if you’re improving?

1. Read your old work

Obvious, I guess. Ultimately, you should see improvement. It’s less boring, it’s more interesting, it’s descriptive, it’s emotional, etc. Those elements need to pop out and show you’ve improved.

2. See if you’ve addressed your glaring problems

You should know your weaknesses. Find out if you’ve been working on it via #1.

3. Revisit your old ideas

Try to write an old idea with your new style and technique. It should be easier to see where the strengths of the idea are.

4. Characterization

The most important element in a story is a character. If you have an awful character (i.e. generic) then you have an uninteresting story. Sure, plot is a big deal, but characterization needs to be there. Make sure your stories have improved the characters over time.


I hope that helps!

Check out some of my other writing work:

Is Writing Every Day Necessary?

Write What You Like

Revising Your Work

Dodging Derivatives

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Have you ever written a story that you soon realized was clearly lifted from another author’s work? Have you ever come up with an idea only to discover it was actually developed by someone else?

Science fiction is a genre that can easily fall into derivatives. Far too often writers of genre fiction either copy ideas from others without thinking about it, or develop ideas from the same source material.

Here’s 3 tips on how to avoid that:

1. Don’t Just Read the Science 

The “science” part of science fiction is important. But taking all your inspiration from the science periodicals is a recipe for disaster. Every submission season, it’s obvious when a new article came out with an interesting scientific breakthrough, because multiple people write about it!

Try breaking out the philosophy magazines and the histories and classics. Maybe there you’ll find inspiration that other people won’t also write about!

2. Take the Tropes and Twist Them

There are a ton of tropes in genre fiction. Science fiction especially suffers from the same sort of ideas time and again. Whether it’s the “AI will kill us” scenario or the “humans are their own enemy” story, it’s a recurring thing when these plot elements are used so frequently.

Take these ideas, and flip them around! Instead of AI being a killer, make it the one suspected of the murder. In reality, people killed and made the AI look like a murderer on purpose! How about the “humans are their own enemy” story? What would an alien race look like who was worse to themselves than humanity is to themselves?

3. Write Down Your Dreams

This seems silly, but I’ve had so many great ideas in the twilight hours! While I’m on the edge of consciousness, my brain just spits out random ideas and thoughts. It’s helpful to write them down so you have unique images and ideas to work from!


I hope you enjoyed that! Let me know in the comments below if anything else has helped you avoid falling into the “same old, same old”. Thanks!

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing ToolsIn developing a story, you will often hear the advice that outlining organizes your thoughts and makes the story more coherent.

This advice is valuable.

However, how do you get from the outline you’ve created to the manuscript?

Here are five tips I have for you writers who struggle to go from the outline to a full manuscript:

1. Follow the Outline.

This is basically step one. You should have added enough to the outline so plot threads you introduce actually have conclusions. If you follow this outline well enough, you will not forget about certain characters or plot elements. It drives me crazy in stories when authors forget about entire characters!

At the same time, don’t let the outline redirect you from creative ideas! Let ideas flow naturally, but let the story read naturally as well. It’s a tough balance.

2. Write Like You’re Reading.

When I say this I don’t mean skimming details. I mean, “write like you’re reading the story word for word”. If it’s quick and the pacing is wrong, slow down. If it’s too slow, speed up! Outlines aren’t much help for this kind of thing.

Your outline won’t have any concern for word count either (though it helps!) so make sure you pay attention to how much time certain story elements take. A quick action scene shouldn’t take ten pages of descriptions about a space ship!

3. Keep Your Folder Nearby.

I think you know what folder I mean. When you start writing a novel, you collect your ideas in a book or folder to keep them all organized. Mine would always look like a packet of mismatched papers!

Look at this folder every time you write. Your outline will guide you, but this folder will flesh out your world. These little touches build a world!

4. Develop a Plan for Each Character.

Getting each character where they need to be is part of your outline (rather, it should be part of your outline). If you are missing this in your outline, then you need to go back and figure this out. Don’t forget about a single character!

But overall, the outline might be missing those specifics that make your characters unique. Your folder from above should contain a quick summary of your character for you to reference, something that you can glance at and remember how you imagine the character to be.

If they change over time, that’s fine! But make sure it’s believable. Why are they changing? What are they responding to?

Creating a world in fiction is one thing, creating a person is another. However, they both spring from the little things.

(But ask yourself this: do you want believability or memorability?)

5. Find Time to Write.

This sounds so simple, but for those of us with careers, it’s difficult.

If you can’t write daily, then write every other day. If that won’t work, then write twice a week or once a week.

Time constraints are generally the only thing keeping your novel constrained to your mind.


I really hope that helps you! I found these tips specifically useful to me when I write. So if even one person gets some benefit from this list, I’m glad.

Keep writing!

Short Story or Novel?

books-683901_960_720I often share on Twitter the books I find at local book sellers. I love reading, so it felt natural to want to create my own books. I’ve seen recently the push to avoid going to novel writing, and instead sticking with shorter fiction.

While there isn’t anything wrong with short fiction, I really do feel like writing novels. This isn’t some misguided crusade into the glamour of the great American novel, but rather a desire of my own to write long form fiction because I feel the style fits my writing better.

I have written short stories. I just don’t feel as interested in them as I do in writing novels. When I get through a few chapters of writing, and see the wheels begin to turn, and the plot threads start to intersect, there’s something I love about it.

It’s almost like playing a strategy game like Chess or Go. In the end, the entire game is what gets me exhilarated, not just the moves in the game.

Figure out what you like best, not what others expect of you.

Is Writing Every Day Necessary?

writing-923882_960_720Stephen King seems to support writing every day (“at least 1,000 words”). Far be it from me to question one of the greats, but is it really necessary to write every day to be a successful writer?

I’ve noticed improvements in my writing and thought process when I write fiction once a day. I believe King is right about that. However, the word count seems to vary.

Writing every day is one option to get into a different mindset in your writing, but it’s not the only one.

I would suggest the following, at least:

1. Schedule writing time for yourself. 

This is important for any writer to have a schedule. Yeah, I know, you can write without a schedule. It seems like I write more often when I actually have it on my calendar to write. Try it out!

2.  Try to write before bed.

This can work, although I’m not one that can do this. For me ideas flow freely before bed, but they’re a malformed blob of creativity. I need a critical eye to sort out what I can do with these ideas. For me, writing at night results in rambling, ranting blocks of text!

3. Write every day.

You can at least try it. I tried it for NaNoWriMo and it worked wonders! I started to think differently about things in my life. However, it also caused me to burn out hard after November. So much so that I hardly blogged in December!

However, the most important thing is to find what works for you.

Write What You Like

 

Planet Water Landscape Spaceship RockIt sounds simple. It even sounds like a platitude devoid of any meaning.

But it’s true.

I experienced this on a personal level. While working on my previous novel I was attempting to make some changes and realized I would never read the book. It’s not for me. I didn’t like that thought, so I started thinking: well what would I like to read?

So it occurred to me to do those simple four words: write what you like.

Thinking about it now, it seems so obvious. It makes too much sense, almost an Archimedes moment.

I like space stories with good science and action. I like fleet combat and maneuvers and soldiers fighting boarding enemies. I love all of that! Why shouldn’t I write it?

Oh I guarantee the money is elsewhere. But then, I’m not doing this for money, am I?

5 Suggestions for Creating Interesting Characters

Writing a character who comes off as “interesting” is a feat for any new writer. Characters are the actors in a story, and if they don’t feel real or interesting then the story is half-formed and stilted. So how can you create interesting characters for your story? Below I have 5 suggestions to help you:

  1. Give Them Flaws. Characters need to have flaws because they are people. Whether this is Pip’s ignorance in Great Expectations, or Romeo and Juliet’s brash actions, characters must make mistakes and do things wrong. It isn’t interesting to read about a perfect person, because that person is unrelatable.
  2. Give Them Challenges. Characters need to overcome something in order to proceed. This thing can be a person, an obstacle to their goals, or even something like getting ready in the morning for work. Challenges define a human being, and overcoming them defines a character.
  3. Give Them Likes and Dislikes. Things you like or dislike don’t necessarily have moral weight. You can dislike a type of food or music and not think of that thing as inherently bad. Characters should have these as well, and not specifically to indicate when something is immoral. It’s very easy to make a character dislike another because that character is the “bad guy”. Instead, give them things they dislike for no real reason. These can be interesting quirks or fascinating character elements.
  4. Give Them Fears. People have things they fear that are unrelated to their goals. Yes, giving a character fears related to their goals is a good idea, like Dorothy fearing she’ll never see Kansas again. However fears can be simply and unrelated to goals specifically, like Holden Caufield fearing the repercussions of being kicked out of school.
  5. Give Them Questions. People often wonder why things are the way they are. Allow your character to explore the world their in, and figure out why their reality is the way it is. This allows greater world-building in your speculative fiction, but there are other options as well. You could also have them directly confront plot elements by questioning the political climate in the world, or maybe the relationship between characters.

These things make a character interesting. Consider them carefully, and also consider how you can make your characters more fleshed out. If you have any suggestions, please leave me a comment below. Thanks!