2021 was the first year I participated officially in NaNoWriMo. It was a fantastic experience and I ended up completing the first draft of my novel, “Divided Loyalties.” Towards the end of it, I started looking into resources on how to keep the momentum going and start the revision process.
I’m good at completing first drafts. Just before starting my current project, I finished a whole other 90,000+ draft of a sister story. There were highs and lows, but the initial outlining and drafting are my favorite parts of the writing process, when an idea is so new and full of potential. I trip up when looking back because that shiny, new idea wasn’t as polished as I initially thought. Confronted with the enormity of what it’ll take to make it a cohesive story, my motivation quickly fritters away until the next shiny new thing comes along.
I believe all writers can relate to this struggle.
I wanted to take a more steady and thoughtful approach to revision. Here are some takeaways from my (ongoing) journey.
- Let it Rest
Upon finishing Divided Loyalties, it was locked in the furthest depths of my hard drive for at least two weeks before I touched it again. My heart was still emotionally tied up in the story. I knew it needed improvements. I knew a lot about it needed to change but it was still the perfect story to me. I needed some time away from it so that I could develop a more objective perspective.
- Then I read it. Oh God, I read it.
This was a very painful process, but it needed to be done. While I read, I took notes and highlighted passages that needed expanding or complete revising. I broke possible expansions down to character development, plot development, world-building, action scenes, and repetitive details that may need clarification or excising.
- Rewrite it, don’t revise
I heard often enough that for the second draft, rather than opening and editing within the document, it’s better to open up another blank document and rewrite the whole thing from the beginning. After reading completely through the first draft and making extensive notes, I saw the wisdom of this.
The story was rather bare-bones. That couldn’t be helped as a first draft. The thematic elements didn’t present themselves really until closer to the end when I had a better idea of what I wanted to tell. I knew a part of the revision process would be weaving this throughout the story in the second draft. To work harder at making the story a story, rather than a series of events that happen to the characters.
Keying in on these issues, I employed a more disciplined revision strategy. Rather than writing another detailed outline from beginning to end and then drafting (like I did for Grim Hollow), I decided to break up the process in several narrative chunks (ie, the end of the war chapters, the travel chapters, etc).
In these chunks, I zeroed in on character development and plot threads. In first drafts, I’m bad about making my main characters passive in their own story. Again, events happen to them to get them to one narrative point to the other. Though Jalmekion was conceptualized as a man of action, a lot still happens to him rather than him affecting the plot. He goes from a prince to a prisoner so it’s understandable to a point, but I needed to do more to center his actions in the story.
The first narrative chunk I’ve tackled are the Sumar chapters. The story starts with a siege of Loryn’s capitol, Sumar. This is the climax of a war between the Satinos and Simaya kingdoms, a war that’s taken place for the last 10 years and a good portion of Jalmekion’s childhood.
Here are my principal goals for the Sumar chapters:
- Flesh out Jalmekion Simaya’s character and his relationship with others, namely his parents, his betrothed and the people he fights alongside
- To establish Sumar as more of a place
- To introduce Aerula’s magic system
- Coordinating action scenes
- To offer some version of the history of the Simaya family and the road that led to this point
Gang of Youths was hugely influential in conceptualizing Jalmekion’s character throughout the writing process. This was one of the songs I played whenever I needed to think through his emotional journey.