What do you do when you’ve finished your novel and feel you’re ready to take it out into the real world? It’s only too tempting to see if you’ve armed it with the necessary survival skills to not only sprout but positively flourish. But sometimes the urge to send out the object of your love, affection and sheer hard work, to see if it will fly or flail, can be premature.
You wouldn’t want Santa to climb down your chimney without Health and Safety training, so why would you let your dear novel compete with its counterparts without making sure it’s completely prepared? It’s not all about checking that all the commas and full stops are present and correct – though obviously this is also very important – often it goes much deeper than that. One blog isn’t enough to go into detail about the full craft of re-drafting, but there are some core issues that every author must ask themselves before dashing to get a submission package ready, or deciding to self-publish.
Firstly, consider the plot. The 3 Act Graph is a good way to measure whether your story is following the right kind of structure. This can seem quite clinical and against the creative spirit of writing, but you’ll notice that most novels - literary and commercial - will in some way or another fulfill this structure; they do so because it works. Consider the sub-plot/s – do they serve to enhance the main arc of the narrative or are they mere stuffing, distracting us from the essential story?
Then think about the protagonist and the main characters – is the protagonist’s emotional arc clear throughout the narrative? Are the characters well developed and distinctive? And importantly, are they all necessary to the story? Overwriting and tinsel of any kind should be avoided. At this stage everything should be assessed with scrooge-like scrutiny and if it’s not earning its keep by pushing the plot and/or character forward, then delete it.
Another aspect, which is sometimes overlooked in the hallelujah moment of having finished the novel is the denouement. Is the resolution satisfying? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘happy’ ending but does it tie up, in some way or another, threads that you’ve woven throughout the book? Will the reader be left feeling content that the story has achieved what it set out to do, or will they have questions, trying to make sense of aspects that weren’t fully developed?
All these things aren’t necessarily obvious to the author, who knows their work so intimately that it’s hard to be objective. At this point an external critical eye can help to identify the issues that have become blurred in the re-drafting process. The one thing which is too often overlooked and which cannot be stressed enough, is time. Once you’ve stayed away from the manuscript for a few weeks now’s the time to look at it again, and judge with clarity whether it’s the cracker you thought it was.
You’ve set the foundation by completing the novel – re-drafting is your opportunity to build upon that firm foundation, and rejoice in creating something beautiful.