This is the fifth post in the Confessions of a New Author series. This series chronicles my adventures of becoming a self-published author, from the very moment I woke up and decided to be an author to when I finally published my debut novel and beyond.
The time has come at last! You’ve done your careful planning, figured out the bits and pieces of your plot, and researched your heart out. You’re finally ready to write that coveted/dreaded first draft! Congratulations!
The first draft of Finding Paradise took about a month or so to write. Having a full-time job, two kids, and a needy (but lovable!) husband in the way. But I narrowly finished it a few days before my 31st birthday, so I was able to take some time off to celebrate another year of life.
However, writing my first draft in a month sounds easier than it actually was. As I mentioned before in previous posts, I rewrote the first few chapters of Finding Paradise three times before I actually felt like I got it right. In the first-first draft, Mila (female protagonist) was timid, broken, yet cursed like a sailor and told her entire life story to Gage (male protagonist) within a few minutes of meeting each other. It didn’t fit well with the character profile I created for her. I wanted my main character to be broken, yes, but also strong. It’s a hard balance and I struggled with the introductory chapters, even after the first draft was written. This is the point in time where I went back to my plot outline and redeveloped my characters (see my previous posts on outlines and character development). Once I fully developed my characters’ personalities and their backstory, I finally had an understanding of who they were and how they would interact with each other.
From there, my fingers lit up the keyboard. Whenever I had a free minute wherever I was – lunch breaks in my office, after dinner on the couch, late nights after the kids and hubby went to bed, in the lobby of my daughter’s dance studio – I managed to get a little bit written at a time. Eventually, “a little bit at a time” adds up. It’s an amazing feeling once your novel starts taking shape!
So here you are! You’ve been itching to hit the keyboard and type out your great American novel. And now after what seems like forever, you’re finally ready to hit the ground running.
But hold on there, Forrest! Don’t go running yet! Take a few words of advice (well, a few more) from me before you start writing…
Keep your readers engage with a killer intro. Grab their attention somehow. How? That’s up to you. Maybe with something embarrassing or frightening. Whatever you decide to do, I would suggest doing it within the first chapter – heck, within the first few pages, if you can. Shock the reader. Grab the reader and hold onto them tight.
WASTE NO TIME
Drop them right into the middle of your main character’s life, right in the middle of their drama. This goes along with the killer intro. If it takes quite a few chapters to get to the main content of the novel, you might have lost a few readers along the way. Unfortunately, many readers (myself included) judge a book not by its cover, but by how long my patience lasts until something juicy happens in a book. If you can’t think of a good way to drop the reader into the thick of it, then write what you need to write to get past the starting line. You can always cut out chapters once you start rewriting/revising after you see how your novel turned out as a whole.
LEAVE OUT THE INFO DUMPS
Have you ever read a novel where the first few chapters are nothing but backstory? Did you even finish that novel? You don’t want to turn off your readers with so much backstory right away that they end up putting your book down and do something crazy, like exercise or eat a salad. Yes, I know you took all that time to create your characters’ backstory and you can use it. But like salt, you want to sprinkle it on, not dump a heaping pile on before it’s had a chance to cook. Are you following me? Fill in the backstory as you go along. Sprinkle, don’t dump. You’ll keep more of your readers engaged if they have to learn about your character along the way.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…
Try, try again! Don’t be afraid to start over (and over and over, if necessary). If the story doesn’t feel right, chances are, the rest of it won’t either. Go back to the drawing board. Reevaluate your characters, your plot, your overall plans. It’s okay to hate what you write. But don’t erase everything. I would suggest saving what you have, then opening a fresh document and starting again. That way, if you decide to use something from a previous draft, you won’t have to recreate the wheel.
OKAY, NOW GO!
Go ahead and start writing. See what happens. The next few posts in this series focus on scene development and finding your “voice”. Don’t know what that means? Then stay tuned!
Thank you for reading, and keep writing your heart out.