When the First Draft Becomes a Way to Reorganize

By Elaine L. Orr

I am a fairly efficient writer — I wrote nonfiction for work for years, articles for journals or magazines, and detailed holiday letters. Fiction was a challenge because it has to flow totally from me, but I didn’t feel intimidated by the process.

However, there are pros and cons to being fast when writing fiction. If you have good notes on your story and the characters, charging ahead is good. However, if you change direction at some point, you may not consider how this affects other aspects of your story.

In working on revisions to a fist draft of New Lease on Death, I realized I had not made my antagonist evil enough. Their motive to kill was solid, but they needed more character flaws. I also needed better misdirections for readers, so-called red herrings.

By the end of the book, I had figured out better ideas than were in the first draft. But making changes at the end brings the ‘whack a mole’ theory into play. Change one thing and then have to change action or emphasis in other parts of a book.

That brings consistency to the forefront. Readers accept an occasional error (maybe) but not something such as describing a character differently from book to book, or having them live two blocks from the ocean in one and four in another. (Unless you mentioned that they moved, of course.) And they really don’t like when you spring something on them at the end of a book. They want to be able to say, “That makes sense” — as opposed to, “Where the heck did that come from?”

A couple of times I’ve been tempted not to do certain revisions — they are so much WORK. And I want to be DONE. But that can’t be. I would always know a book could have been better.

Every time this happens, I tell myself to plan better when I start. And I do plan fiction better than I did 15 years ago. It’s just new ideas pop up. 

That made me look up whack-a-mole, a phrase I’ve used but one I learned through observation. One meaning is “a situation in which repeated
efforts to resolve a problem are frustrated by the problem reappearing in a
different form.” Sounds about right. Better to figure out 99 percent of character flaws or misdirection before the fingers hit the keyboard.

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