3 Elements to Revise in an Early Draft

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’ve started a full revision of The Herb Witch Tales this month. I’m currently revising the third draft of Uprooted, and will move straight into revising the second draft of New Earth.

These novellas form a duology, so it’s important to me that the characters, plots, and narrative themes align between them. I had written the first part in full, started the second part, and then decided to rewrite part one. Now that I’ve finished a subsequent rewrite of part two, I’m taking the time to revise both parts together.

Thus, my focus for this revision phase is first on consistency of those big pieces, knowing I’ll likely have to come back again to revise for smaller details.

That got me thinking about which elements are important to focus on during a given revision phase.

I’ll start by looking at what to focus on when revising an early draft.

3 Elements to Revise in an Early Draft

I’m using the term “early draft” here, because every writer drafts at a different pace. Some take three drafts to get a polished story; others take ten, or fifty. An early draft could be a discovery draft, where you’re just getting words onto paper, or it could be a draft that has already gone through a couple of revisions, but still feels raw.

In any case, you have a completed draft that you know needs some work. Where to begin? I’d like to highlight three places to start.

1 – Scene Development

This might seem obvious, but an early draft likely has a lot of plot holes to fill. Read through your draft with a questioning mind. From scene to scene, are there any questions left unanswered about how your characters are behaving, jumps in time, or events that are not presented to the reader directly?

It’s okay to leave some of these things for the reader to interpret, but that should be an intentional decision. If you’ve skipped a ton of scene development for the purpose of getting that draft finished, then many parts of the story may feel unfinished when you’re revising.

With every scene you revise, ask yourself:

  • Does this scene transition well from the previous scene?
  • Does the scene demonstrate new or reinforce established information about the characters, the plot, or the world they’re in?
  • Does it transition well into the next scene in a way that readers can follow?

2 – Character Consistency

Pay attention to the way your main characters may change – or not change – over the course of the story.

  • Do their attitudes shift, and do these changes serve the narrative?
  • Does each character have consistent voicing — the way the speak, act, fidget, or think?
  • Do their decisions align with what the reader knows about their fears, their motives, and what’s happening around them?
  • Does each character have agency, able to make decisions in reaction to what’s happening around them, rather than being buffeted through each scene like a toy doll in a hurricane?

Similarly, do your side characters have a purpose in your story? These are the folks who may only appear in a few scenes, or in the background of whatever the main characters are doing, but they should be there for a reason. A character who just reacts to what’s going on around them – a child who only complains to their parents, or a sidekick who only cheers on their leader – will fall flat. If you’re taking the time to create a character and place them in a scene, then give them something to contribute.

3 – Narrative Flow

This follows on element number one above, but forces you to take a step back and view your story not just for each individual scene, but for how the entire piece comes together.

  • If the story is intense with drama or action, are there moments of quiet and calm, or is the reader constantly pushed from one crisis into another with no respite?
  • Does the narrative meander from one scene to another, taking random expository detours that last for pages on end?
  • Does the plot flow naturally, or will the reader feel jolted along due to unexpected time jumps, or sudden changes of place?

Finding Your Story’s Intention

None of these things are bad to have in a story, but they should be intentional. Revising an early draft should give you the opportunity to understand, and improve on, the tone, pacing, and style of your story.

And don’t fret the details of Editing or Proofreading just yet. That will come in later revision phases.

Steve D

Book Review: 1984, and Truth against totalitarianism

I just finished reading 1984 by George Orwell for the first time. Somehow, this book was not part of my high school reading curriculum. I feel like my high school English class had a huge reading list, and each class read only a selection — friends of mine read 1984, and my class read Brave New World, which I loved.

This book is a must-read for anyone who feels compelled to understand the psyche of fascism and totalitarianism.

If a reader comes to this book looking for character development, reasonable plot pacing, or much scene work beyond didactic dialogue, they will not find it. They will also be missing the point. From a story perspective, I really enjoyed the section focusing on Winston and Julia’s relationship, even if their time together ended rather abruptly.

Orwell’s story is a mechanism to explain the idea that totalitarianism seeks control as an end itself. The ideology doesn’t matter. Control over every aspect of life – even over thought, if it can be achieved – is the entire aim of the totalitarian system. To gain power over people and keep it is the only goal.

This book is a product of its time and timeless, as applicable a warning against fascism now as it was seventy years ago. As a lover of history, I was interested in the alternative rendering of the post-WW2 order, but I know there are likely other stories where this is the focal point, rather than the exposition dump Orwell uses. This section was particularly frightening to me as the end of the book drew near, as it provided a view into a world where Truth does not matter – even upon learning the truth about your reality, a totalitarian system’s entire existence is predicated on controlling you in spite of it.

Steve D

2023 To be Read & To be Watched List

I wrote a TBR / TBW last year, and then never followed up on it. Turns out, I didn’t end up getting to about half of the things on my list in 2022. That’s not really a negative — I just ended up focusing my reading and TV/movie energies elsewhere. So, why not provide an update?

To Be Read in 2023

I’m going to take a mulligan on the first… four entries on this list, since these were all on my 2022 list.

The Wheel of Time

I’ve been slowly but steadily making my way through the final book in this series. I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but I’m not really in a rush to finish this series. First of all, the final trilogy of the series has been intense and incredibly satisfying. The final book, A Memory of Light, has been exponentially more intense, in a good way, than any of the thirteen books that precede it. But it means that I’ll read a couple sections, then stop to process a bit. I’m basically savoring this read, and not regretting it in the slightest.

The Saxon Stories, or The Last Kingdom series

I’ve read the first seven books in this series now, and while the last couple installments haven’t been as exciting to me, I still intend to continue the series. These books are great ways for me to pad the Read list on GoodReads, since I tend to get through them pretty quickly. So, I always look for the next one when I need an easy, action-packed read.

An Encyclopedia of Tolkien

…which my wife got me for Christmas two years ago and keeps tempting me from the shelf. After the joy of watching Rings of Power last autumn, I’ve been burning to get into this deep-dive of Tolkien lore.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, by Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl’s memoir, which my wife got me for Christmas last year. I’m generally not a memoir type of reader, but I love Dave Grohl, and I don’t want this book to sit unloved on my shelf for years at a time. I need to check this one off my list.

Some new fantasy series

I legitimately don’t know where I will turn next for epic high fantasy series after I finish Wheel of Time, and the opportunity is honestly exciting. There are several candidates on my Want to Read list on GoodReads, such as Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, Patrick Rothfuss, or a Brandon Sanderson series. I am open to recommendations, so leave a comment!

Social science-y type books

I will, of course, continue to read some history, politics, anthropology, or linguistics books as I go, just to mix it up, but those are usually decisions of the moment.

To be Watched in 2023

Honestly, this one is a little more difficult this year. In early 2022, I was excited about all of the shows and films in the MCU, Star Wars, and other IP universes. A lot of those properties were mediocre, at best, and I will definitely be more skeptical of them going forward. I think I need to pay closer attention to more “prestige” TV shows this year.

The Bear

I’m already halfway through this eight-episode show on Hulu, but I’m really enjoying it. I like Jeremy Allen White, and the restaurant setting pulls at a few of my memories from my years in the service industry. This one has me focused for now, but I know it will go quickly.

The Last of Us

This is on the list exclusively because a friend of mine asked if I wanted to watch it with him. This is the same friend with whom I’ve watched The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Ballers, and House of the Dragon, so this show will be our next shared viewing experience. I never played the video game this series is based on, and I don’t know much about it other than zombies. Big fan of Pedro Pascal, though, so I don’t need any more convincing.

More Movies

I’d like to go to the movies more this year, but I’m not sure how I’ll swing that, just based on my schedule. I feel like I only went to the movies once or twice all of last year, though, so I can probably do better than that.

I really just want to watch more movies that I’ve never seen before. There are likely tons of movies I could list out that many would consider classics, or must-see, which I have not seen. Listening to The Big Picture podcast on The Ringer is entertaining in its own right, but also a constant reminder of how little I’ve scratched the surface of movie lore from the last few decades.

I have no idea where I’m going to start. I just want to make it a point to watch more movies. Maybe one per week? That seems ambitious, but I will try.

Recommendations?

Is there any book, movie, TV show, or documentary that I am blatantly missing from this list? Anything you feel like you’ve been screaming at people to get on board with? Please tell me about it! I love sharing reading and watching experiences with people.

Steve D

January Write Day: New Somethings

Well, here we are. 2023.

Time to look back on all my goals from 2022 and recalibrate for a new year. I’ll probably do a general goals review post for all of 2022 at some point this month, but this is not that post.

Today, let’s just stick to the here and now – how December went for me and how I would like for January to go.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Finish New Earth.
  2. Read three books.
  3. Exercise three times per week.

I feel good about this one.

Finish New Earth?

Yes! At least, as close as I can get with a second draft. As I had mentioned last month, I did not track a word count goal for December, because I just wanted to finish the story.

I got over the bump of the final conflict, and I have some falling action to write. The reason I’m not too concerned with the falling action is twofold.

a. Right now the falling action just feels like a cliff notes section of the day after, and that’s uninteresting, both as a writer and a reader.

b. I need to review both stories in The Herb Witch Tales, Uprooted and New Earth, in full to ensure that I’ve hit all the big thematic beats I wanted to hit throughout this duology. That will really determine what I need to cover in the falling action.

So, a revision phase is in order. I’m still not sure how I will proceed with that. Printing the two documents of 70+ pages each just to red-line edit them feels wasteful.

Plus, I have a shiny new writing tool. I got myself a small, hefty laptop whose sole purpose is to give me portable access to my writing in a pinch. For the last couple years, I’ve primarily been writing on a desktop in my office, which is in the back room of the upstairs of our house. A nagging technical issue aside, it’s not a very convenient writing spot when I have two kids running around and usually don’t get more than a half hour to sit and concentrate on something.

What I’m hoping this new laptop will give me is a way to sit for 10 or 15 minutes in my kitchen and try to scratch out a couple hundred words while dinner is on the stove, or while my one-year-old is falling asleep with a bottle in his mouth next to me on the couch.

Read three books?

I read five books! One was short, and another was very short, but I don’t care. I did not meet my 2022 GoodReads goal of 26, but a final push over the holidays brought me to 22 books read for the year, which I’m not upset about.

Exercise three times a week?

Minus the weeklong feasting of the holidays, yes. My strategy to simplify my workout goal has really helped me focus on what I need to do on a given day to just achieve a bare minimum.

Part of the problem is that work has been so stressful the last few months that I’ve all but stopped taking real breaks during the day. I wasn’t letting myself take substantial breaks, which obviously cut into any workout time I might have.

So, in addition to the workout plan, I also just need to give myself the space to have some self-care time during my workday, when I’m by myself and have some control over my schedule. If I had a resolution this year, that would be it — allowing myself the space for self-care, without feeling guilty about it.

Goals for January

  1. Start revising The Herb Witch Tales, #1 and #2. I don’t quite know what this process will look like yet, so I can’t commit to a timetable yet. I definitely don’t want to sit on these stories for too long. I just need to figure out my revision process and start. That likely starts with an overarching view of the themes, plot threads, and character beats I want to follow throughout both stories, so I think I have some contemplating and organizing to do first.
  2. Read three books. I’ve made more progress on A Memory of Light and just started listening to 1984, so January reading is off to a good start.
  3. Exercise at least three times a week. I’m not going to jump ahead of myself. I have a decent routine down, and I need to figure out how to build on it. That could include incorporating a longer yoga session or two into my week, but I’ll see how it develops. I also got a double-end bag for Christmas, which provides a great way to get some cardio and shoulder/triceps workout in. I just need to clean out my garage and install it. We’ll see how that goes.

Steve D

Book Review: THE PAGAN LORD grinds series progression to a halt

The Pagan Lord is the seventh book in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell, and this has been my least favorite of the series so far.

This installment has all the trappings of a classic “middle book”: no major plot progression for Uhtred or other main characters, stagnant action that lacks excitement or real stakes, and no new characters to liven up the story.

After several years of relative peace, the Saxons and Danes feel restless and wary for the next war that most don’t truly believe is coming. Uhtred, as always, if on the lookout for the next war, and his instincts end up proving correct.

However, this book feels like a regression for Uhtred as a character, who makes a rash mistake that leads to him being outcast by the Saxon kingdoms. Uhtred is bitter in his old age and still clings to his dream of retaking Bebbanburg, which makes him more desperate than in previous stories.

The wisdom and growth as a leader we had seen from Uhtred in recent stories seems to have eroded, perhaps because he has been rudderless for several years. It is perhaps fitting that this story also feels largely rudderless, like its protagonist, but it does not make for a very enjoyable read.

With both of his sons grown into men, Uhtred’s successes and shortcomings as a father are also on display. He is ashamed of his eldest son for becoming a priest, but his actions are those of a petulant child who did not find his heir in a son whom he largely neglected as a child. His second son is a brave lad eager to prove himself as a warrior, but Uhtred does more to put him down than build him up. Uhtred’s daughter, Stiorra, another child to whom he hasn’t paid much attention, is also notably absent from his life.

This was a decent story, but I’m hoping Uhtred snaps out of his funk. The narrator was okay, but did not bring the same intensity to the story that previous narrators have. Here’s hoping book eight picks up the pace again and Uhtred finds his way.

Steve D