*Reminder: These posts all flow from the ones that came before, since we are talking about a particular method of finishing a book. Next week will be a more general writing post.
At this point you are a few drafts in, and you hopefully have a pretty solid “bare bones” framework on which to build the rest of your story. But now comes the difficult part: diving deeper, fleshing out the story into more than just the most basic plot elements, adding in emotion and backstory and worldbuilding. Essentially, making it a BOOK.
Obviously, the most important thing to focus on during your first “after feedback” draft is fixing any major problems your readers pointed out. Logic issues, plot holes, improved characterizations…all of these will get your undivided attention, to begin with. This draft is also perfect for major changes in things like POV, since you have your plot bones all worked out and can play with style and formatting a bit more. In my after-feedback draft for my current project, I decided to completely change the entire format of the book, going from two first-person POVs to six alternating third-person POVs. It opened up the story in a whole new way and made the book a thousand times better. Once I did that, everything came together and I finally moved from the ugly potato-head baby phase into the Little Miss California phase. So don’t be afraid to try new things! If your readers noted lots of “telling” (vs “showing”…we all know what that is, right? I don’t have to explain it? Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to), or passive writing, examine whether your character is the best POV for this story. You don’t have to ditch your current MC, necessarily, but you might have to do what I did and add a few more.
Once you’ve gotten the bones polished, you can move on to the MEAT (after the meat, my metaphors change drastically and become things like “window dressing” and “interior decorating,” because I would probably sound like a serial killer if I told you to move on to the hair and nails and the pretty, pretty skin).
Examine the feedback you got that had nothing to do with mechanics. Aside from the necessary changes like “this plot element didn’t work,” or “I hated this character,” or “this made absolutely no fucking sense you twat,” you will hopefully have comments relating to what your readers wanted MORE of. More of a character’s backstory, more explanation of the villain’s origins (The Man, The Mystery, The Total Evil Asshole), more information about a particular element in your world. You can use those comments to help you decide exactly what it is you’re fleshing out. There’s a delicate balance, here. You always want to move your story forward, but you also want to layer in enough of your world and side-“stuff” to make the whole thing come alive.
One great way to do this is to think of what repercussions certain events would realistically have. In my current project, I have a group that has shut down the major trade road going into the country’s capitals. I realized that the cities would experience food shortages, and added that into my descriptions of the city using small details. That got me thinking about how the cities would react to such a thing…and added in a chapter in which some of the capitals make a deal with this group to get their access to trade restored, which has a huge impact on the city my MC is in. It’s not a major element, but it fleshed out the situation.
This is also where a lot of your worldbuilding will come into play. Remember how I made you do it and then told you not to use any of it yet? Yeah, you hated that, didn’t you? DIDN’T you? Well, here you go. Now’s your time to shine! Go fucking CRAZY! But, you know, not too crazy. This isn’t an encyclopedia about your world. I reaaaaaally don’t need to read 43 pages about the clothes your characters wear and where they are manufactured and how difficult it is for the artisans to make the fabric, thankyouverymuch.
Another note about worldbuilding: As you go deeper into the story and layer in your descriptions and setting details from your notes, remember that you can use invented terminology to further draw readers into your world. Inventing words is one of my favorite parts of worldbuilding. I. Fucking. Love it. I guess you should remember, though, that I write fantasy. You probably won’t be inventing words for a historical fiction or crime novel, but you WILL want to use terminology appropriate to the era you’ve chosen or your character’s crimey-sort-of-profession. For us sci-fi fantasy people: I love making up words and then only using context to clue the reader in to what they mean. None of my readers have thrown bricks at me, so I guess it’s working! Try it out, it’s fun!
As for subplots: I confess that I had to look up what this term actually meant. When I write, I just…write. My scenes are all related to the plot, even if they’re from a different character’s POV. I guess I had this sense that “subplots” were something totally unrelated to the plot, like a side-mission in a video game that has nothing to do with the story. When I looked into it, it seemed that some subplots can be like that, but the articles explaining how to pull them off made me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a grapefruit spoon. I DID find this gem, though: Sub Plots I like it because it shows how you can have side events that absolutely relate to your main plot, even if it’s not clear at the time. This article also uses To Kill A Mockingbird as an example, and it really brought the idea home for me. This whole time I’ve been writing subplots without really thinking about it, but now I know what they really “are” and I feel pretty fucking cool.
Lastly, make sure you’re examining your characters’ emotional responses. Characters don’t just DO things, they have opinions about the things they are doing, and those opinions can be shown through their emotional reactions. For example:
“Hey, Barb, hand me that book.”
“Sure thing,” Barb said, giving Eric the book.
“Hey, Barb, hand me that book.”
“YOU ARE STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO IT YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE.” Barb charged across the room, snatched the book from the nightstand, and beaned Eric in the eyeball with it.
Think about how your characters feel about certain exchanges or events, and layer in emotion accordingly. Please don’t go overboard and use things like “angrily” or “apologetically” for every single dialogue tag. Actions speak louder than dialogue tags, as Barb has so graciously demonstrated for us above.
Um, I think that’s it, for now. Next week I’m going to talk about Voice, which is really daunting because EVERYONE talks about Voice and it’s one of those sort of vague subjects that I can never really seem to explain. But I think it’s important to this stage, since you’re fleshing out your characters and your narrative………voice. *smooth*
So, until next week! Same Bat channel, but not really the same Bat time because it depends on when I wake up and whether I have laundry or dishes piling up…