Last WW: The Tortise and the Hare
I’ve talked before about how it’s important that you complete more than one draft. I just finished up a short story that I have for the upcoming The Z Chronicles, and learned this lesson all over again. I thought that I had a good story that would only need minor tweaking. I was wrong. Turns out, all I have is bones. There were a lot of things that needed to be changed.
Problem: My main character needed to be more active. For most of the story she was just standing around, doing nothing. She lucked into the plot, and not getting eaten, and managed to get in and out of a secured building drama free. And hey, there was her zombie husband just waiting for her. Convenient. Everything went as planned for her, because I planned it, and hadn’t figured out how to throw a wrench in it just yet. I had her do subtle things, but those actions didn’t come across. So instead of her being the resourceful and smart protagonist that I had hoped for, she was just sort of going with it. Fix: Make her more active, of course! Anything that happens needs to happen because she made it happen. It’s not enough for her to just be there, she has to be a FORCE in the story. Unfortunately, this means much more work for me. I have to completely rewrite several scenes. But you know what? My story will be far better for it.
Problem: Remember how I said my protagonist wasn’t very resourceful? Well, part of that is because the bad guys decided to just tell her everything. My Alpha reader compared my villains to Bond Villains. They gave her crucial information, used her, and told her all about the world and the plot. Informative dialogue is the worst. And I am guilty of having a lot of it in my early drafts of a story. I know it’s bad, and yet, it shows up. Maybe it’s a way for me to work out the details for myself?
Fix: Cut that dialogue! Those words of telling must be turned into scenes of showing. It’s possible that there is some that can’t be expressed any other way, but most of it doesn’t belong in dialogue. It should either become narrative (as long as it isn’t just an info-dump), worked into the action, or taken out completely if it turns out it was in there for my benefit, and not the readers.
Problem: Unnecessary things. Do we need to see her taking a trip to the hardware store? Probably not. Why is she super-gluing her wounds? Sure, it’s a cool visual, but it’s 30 years at least since the apocalypse, that super glue would be dried out. Also, it may be a small, post-apocalyptic society, but it’s also technological advanced and she’s a cop, so why doesn’t she just have a first aid kit?
Fix: Determine what’s important and what isn’t. If it’s not needed, take it out. If it is, but being delivered badly, write it better, explore it deeper, and convince the reader.
I’ve got a lot of work to do on this story and it’s due on the 15th. Even though that puts me under pressure, I’m glad that I didn’t hand in my first effort. If I had, my story would be weak. Now that I’m doing a second draft (and polish after that) I’m sure that it will be a hundred times better than what I started with. I’ll have a strong, professional story that’s tight and well written. Want your work to be better? Do multiple drafts! And if you can, get an extra pair of eyes on it between the drafts. I can’t say it enough.