I’m about finished with my first ever full rough draft for my first ever novel. I’ve been an editor for ten years but am now working on my own fiction. Luckily, I’ve done some things right:
- I plotted exhaustively
- I went back and added tension, raised stakes, built in conflict
- I rearranged things so my protagonist has a character arc
- I hit all the right steps in the right places. 60 chapters, first plot point at 15, midpoint at 30, 2nd plot point at 45, etc.
So structurally, my story is pretty strong. And that’s really important. If you haven’t done that, your novel probably sags in the middle, is too slow, doesn’t have enough conflict and stakes. Why should the reader care? Why should they keep reading?
They won’t necessarily get through to your brilliant ending if you can’t hold their attention. But they’ll also get bored if you just throw in action and chaos randomly.
Everything that happens has to be necessary and unavoidable, and further the plot, and challenge the characters in new ways. Even better if you can introduce moral and ethical conflict: different characters, even allies, fight over decisions because they have different opinions. Characters are morally conflicted, they have to choose between impossibly bad options. They try to do good, but their actions lead to tragedy. They feel horrible for their mistakes.
You need all that, but you need readers to care about them as well. You do that by increasing reality and making likable characters.
So after you finish your first rough draft, and your plotting is spot on and amazing (if you’re not sure, go read Plot Perfect or Write from the Middle or Story Engineering or The Story Grid… or all of them), after you’ve got that done, you need to go back through and focus on these things:
- Make your characters more real. Give them personalities, habits, histories, childhoods, opinions, dress codes and fashions, relationships, family. Give them their own struggles. Do this for all your characters.
- Then make the main characters insanely lovable. Make readers relate to them. Make them vulnerable and open. Show their weaknesses and flaws – in a way that makes readers feel sorry for them (but, then they have to redeem themselves and grow throughout the book). You can use tricks, like holding a puppy or saving a little girl, to make them heroic.
- Then go through and build up your settings, scenes. Make each location beautiful and intriguing and real; put your characters in someplace different. Somewhere new and fresh.
Add in all that info and you’ll have a much better 2nd rough draft… then all you have to do is a final copyedit to improve the writing, the word choice, the sentence structure and pacing.