In this post, we show you how to solve seven first draft dilemmas.
Starting a draft of a new novel is always daunting, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned writer. There are some first draft ‘traps’ that await us all — they’re easy to fall into, and difficult to recover from. If you’re able to recognise them, you’ll be able to avoid them or write your way out of them quicker.
Here are 7 of the most common dilemmas with some ideas on how to solve them.
7 First Draft Dilemmas — Fixed!
① Your story starts too slowly.
The Fix: Create a separate file or notebook to detail your characters’ backstories — you can make as many notes as you like here. Try to refine the true moment of change for your character is one short, sharp sentence.
② Your hero or heroine is too nice.
There’s a likeable lead character and then there’s a character who is just too perfect or righteous and annoying. It’s all good and well to have an idealistic character, but they must still seem like a ‘normal’ person.
The Fix: Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak. Look at your lead’s daily rituals, their hobbies, or bad habits. Maybe your hero can’t give up his 16-cup-a-day coffee habit, or your heroine is always late because she hits the ‘Snooze’ button on her alarm too many times.
③ Your story world isn’t coming to life.
Sometimes your setting isn’t sparking on the page, or your story seems to be taking place in a vacuum. The setting is more than a backdrop — it’s the unique world where your characters live and breathe. It’s almost like an invisible character in your book.
The Fix: The quick fix for this is to use as many of the five senses as possible (see, smell, hear, touch, and taste) and try to use as many proper nouns as possible. Have your characters react to their environment as the story unfolds rather than chunks of description.
④ You’re editing while you write.
Of course this is something we all struggle with. It’s so tempting to go back and change a sentence or refine a paragraph. That ever-looming critic is always looking over our shoulder or whispering in our ear.
The Fix: This is not an easy fix. Some fixes will work for a short while but we tend to slip back into bad habits. So make a deal with yourself — tell yourself you can only edit every hour and then only for 15 minutes or so.
⑤ Your plot stalls in the middle of the book — or before.
Sometimes you find that you can’t sustain your plot; there just isn’t enough meat on the bone. You find you could wrap up your story after a few chapters or that you’ve reached the middle and have written your characters into a cul-de-sac.
The Fix: This is where planning will save you many wasted hours. Create a 30-page outline of your novel, writing a paragraph or two on each chapter — focus on the conflict, the character development, and the unexpected that could happen. Don’t forget to work on teasing out sub-plots that will bolster the main story.
⑥ You don’t have enough dialogue — or too much dialogue.
Dialogue is a great way to make a story come alive but often we get caught in the trap of ‘reporting’ what the characters are doing and you end up in an essay-type narrative. Other times you find yourself writing a screenplay that is just about passive characters ‘talking’ a problem to death.
The Fix: For the important dialogue in your story, show your character’s emotional reaction to the dialogue and the situation — this will give texture to your dialogue and deepen the connection between the reader and the character. Make sure your characters are in a defined scene where they can interact with other characters. Don’t keep the reader locked inside the character’s head.
⑦ You’re already bored with the story.
This is probably the hardest dilemma to fix. You find yourself lacking the momentum to carry on, you find your writing colourless, or your characters no longer hold your imagination. If you’re bored with the story, there’s a good chance the readers will be bored with it too.
The Fix: The good news is that your first draft is where you can play with your story and change things before you commit to a final draft. Look at your main character and see if you can make their conflict stronger. Find the elements of the story you do like and jot down why these parts resonate with you. Often the problem is you’re writing a story in a genre you’re not passionate about or don’t read — and that means this isn’t the book for you.
I hope you catch these first draft dilemmas. Your life will be easier if you do.
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