Carla Acheson

Historical Fiction Author

I’m sure a lot of authors will agree with me that the first draft of their book is just the first layer of a multi-tiered cake! One of the problems with a first draft too, is that it can either be too long or too short. I’m not entirely sure which is the more irritating offender there, but the problem with my first draft is that it is too short. This means that I have either skimped out on a plot detail or two, or been scanty with my descriptions. Either way, today was the day I decided to tackle this problem head on, and it began with storyline/plot/structure analysis.

I began by opening an entirely separate document and writing a complete outline of my book from beginning to end. This ended up being two pages long and 18 chapters deep. Under each chapter heading I wrote the ‘beats’ of the chapters which I talked about in one of my previous posts.  After scanning this, I could see that when my heroine reached the age of about twenty years, I had somehow missed out the following twenty years of her life, skipping right on excitedly to include the next scene I had in mind.

Twenty years of a person’s life is alot of words/paragraphs which I unnecessarily lost out on, in my hesitation to jump into a particular scene in her forties! What’s worse, I’m not even quite sure why I did it, other than to have her attend some event, and so I paid little attention to the fact I had aged her  between one chapter and the next.

This is why it is so important to be methodical with times, dates and places. These are the things, ( if your Editor doesn’t pick up on,)your readers will drag your name through the mud for! Don’t give them the pleasure. Check your story once, twice or a hundred times if necessary.

So somehow, I had to find a few chapters worth of extra story and integrate it seamlessly! It was a challenge!

Armed with strong coffee, I then scanned back over the outline of all my previous characters to see if I could plausibly bring back any interesting characters into my heroine’s life, (or alternatively, have her forge relationships with some new ones,) all without it seeming a bit contrived. Fortunately I managed to come up with some interesting turn of events, somehow linking to my heroine’s past and hotting things up for her future. I decided that an old flame would return, a secret would be cast into the open and a baby would be born and voila! I had created the possibility of fleshing out my book by an extra three or four chapters, and all I had to do is make sure that they worked in the gap of my time-hopping heroine.

My next step will be to write out the ‘first drafts’ of these new chapters in full, making sure they neatly fit in with the rest of the story without adding even more gaping holes.

The only nagging problem I could have run into with the process of budging chapters along whilst inserting new ones, is that it can be tricky and very confusing. Want my advice? Make a whole new folder and call it ‘Draft 2.’ Leave Draft 1 of your book untouched and work on moving chapters around in the second one. Trust me, there is no chocolate cake out there good enough to compensate for the loss/destruction of your original work. I even keep a copy of my drafts in my memory stick, should my laptop ever break down/get stolen. I may even do the same with Draft 3, and so on.


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