Your first draft is done!
And trust me when I say this, it is not ready to be published!
How do you know this? No one writes a perfect first draft. You don’t either. Before you let your mom, your best buddy or the pizza guy read this draft, make sure it’s the best you can make it.
Here are questions you can ask about this draft.
Go on! Take your time to think about it! Make notes! Each change you make will probably be for the better. And if you are serious about getting this published, then you’ll be far more marketable and competitive in this saturated markets. Your pizza guy? He probably won’t notice the changes precisely, but he probably will enjoy the pacing, characterization, and conflict. Make sure you tip him well.
Are there believable surprises in your story?
Your reader needs to be surprised, so think of ways to put the unexpected in. What if the sidekick decides to betray our main character? Or what if the getaway is interrupted by a car crash? What if the protagonist is recognized by the guard? Or what if the love interest is really that bully from her childhood? What if his food allergies give away his identity? It’s hard when you’ve read your work a million times to see a surprise (that’s where a beta reader could come in) but keep thinking! Surprises keep your readers turning pages long after they should be in bed!
Do the supporting characters contrast the main character enough in what they do or say?
When creating your cast of characters, think of the supporting cast as an ensemble. They should have different personality types, different life experiences, different points of view. And they should never get along perfectly. The main character could take turns listening to each one and yet changing his loyalties. What do you have in this draft? Consider each one carefully and make necessary changes.
Is every supporting character necessary?
Can you cut any out? When creating characters, think about variety and roles that each character plays. Just like our main character, each of the supporting cast should have desires and objectives. To make good conflict, you don’t want them to perfectly align with your protagonists. But if they are too similar, you may have a problem. If you have characters that are too much the same either make one an extreme exaggeration or eliminate one altogether.
Do you have a subplot or two that can divert the reader from the main story, just for a moment?
A good subplot harmonizes with the main plot, it doesn’t compete with it. If you don’t have one in this draft, now’s the time to add one. That’s why a romantic subplot often works in books that aren’t necessarily romances. Cutting away to the subplot, right when the tension in the main plot is high, is a good strategic move for story telling. Your readers will be invested in both if you do this right, and they’ll keep reading.
Is your antagonist too much of a cartoon?
It’s really easy to take a villain and put a mustache, beard and black hat on him. You can do that in the first draft. But the more you make him like a cartoon the less serious he will be to your reader. Have you taken the worst of your antagonist and exaggerated it to the point of caricature? It may be better to work with their nuances, their personalities, and their worldview rather than their quest for “one meelion” dollars.
Is your antagonist’s objective clear?
Does it oppose your protagonist enough? Do you want to have your antagonist monolog to reveal all of their intentions to your good guy? Or would it come up some other way? Antagonist development is really important. The richer you make this conflict between him and the protagonist, the more interesting your story.
Is your dialogue distinctive between characters?
The voice between the characters should be so distinctive that you could remove the dialog tags and still know what’s going on. If you don’t see any distinction, this could mean that you have too many characters or too many that are alike. Consider merging a couple together or killing a few darlings.
What do all of the characters learn by the end?
Every character needs to have some sort of arc. This means that by the end of the story everyone has had a change for the better or for the worse. The change could be a physical change, or it could be financial, spiritual, emotional, academic or professional. The point is that growth is evident to the reader.
Do you add in touches of sensory description in each scene?
Sensory descriptions can make the scene come alive. Consider using three descriptors, but not too many more. A scene that’s too heavy handed with description can be boring, so take care that you don’t get carried away.
Is the mood and tone of the story consistent with the theme and the genre?
Tone is the emotional weight of the narration. For example, thrillers are mostly serious. Romances are more light-hearted. Comedies, regardless of their setting, are the lightest of all. If you’re writing genre fiction, you want to sound like all of the other books in your genre. If your tone is too different from what is expected, you may turn off some readers.
Do your scenes feel like they build with excitement like the tension is increasing as the story plays out?
Each scene requires a push or a pull, toward the main character’s objective or away from it. There should be a sense of more gained than lost, and each scene is more treacherous than the last.
Do your protagonist and antagonist have a final conflict where something unexpected happens?
This should happen late in the second act. There should be a point when all hell breaks loose and your protagonist and your antagonist are at each other’s throats. You’ve seen this scene in countless movies — the final showdown. Now, if you do this well, you don’t make it last too short or too long, you give the villain the upper hand for just a second and then BAM! Something unexpected helps the protagonist out and your bad guy gets the Disney accidental-death-by-falling-which-technically-doesn’t-make-your-good-guy-a-murderer. Okay, maybe that’s a big much for your romance, but you get what I’m trying to say.
Does your protagonist make a choice between two mutually exclusive desires?
This conflict is one of my very favorite things to create for my characters. They’ve have wanted to get to A for a long, long time — say 250 pages — and here they are, just about to touch it and have what they want but then, THEN, they realize they’ll lose B if they do! B?? B?? Oh, not B! This is good conflict. Set your characters up to make them choose!
Is your ending predictable?
This is the funny thing about endings: the need to be believable and probable, but not completely predictable. Before you write that conclusion, make sure you’ve considered all of the options. Make a list, if you have to, of what could happen and then choose the most ridiculous, most mind-boggling or most odd. Your reader would prefer a good surprise rather than an “oh, I saw that coming!”
Does your third act bring all the characters to a new, permanent place that makes sense?
Your third act is where everyone cleans up the mess of the climax and goes on about their lives. If you’ve done your job well, then each character has a new, permanent change in their life. Third acts should be much shorter than the second act, and maybe even shorter than the third. Don’t over do it. Just sum it all up in a tidy bow and write The End.
Your first draft is certainly something to be proud of, but a well-crafted novel is even moreso. Use these questions to make your draft the best it can be.
Did you like this post? You may also like:
Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done and 16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.