Today I welcome author Renee April onto my blog, who is how to deal with an evolving manuscript.
Big thanks to Renee for being today’s guest poster, please make sure to check out her links and details at the end of this post.
My young adult fantasy novel began life as a trashy manuscript written by an angsty teen in her bedroom back in 2009. Instead of doing homework, I was furiously writing the most cliched, cringey book anyone could envision. Naturally I thought it was the best thing in the world.
A few years later, I found the draft and decided to rewrite it. The next year, the same thing. This cycle continued until I finished up a draft in 2017 and finally admitted to myself that this was probably the best it was going to get.
That all changed when I signed my first publishing contract and began work with my brilliant editor. Though she liked the manuscript, she pointed out a few things that could be improved upon, and lo and behold, the cycle started again. Each suggestion spawned a new re-write, and though I was focussing solely on adding in the new changes, something strange began to happen to this book I knew inside out.
With each layer of drafting came a new revelation about the world. Hints of character were fleshed out, cultures developed, new magics created. As we neared the final stage of content editing, my book looked nothing like the one I submitted.
And I love it.
While I’m very happy with what will become my debut, there are a few points I’d like to offer my advice with. As usual, take what applies, leave the rest!
Welcoming the changes
I am one of the most stubborn authors you’ll ever meet – or I was. I went from holding my ground (AKA, throwing a tantrum) at suggested changes, to enjoying and considering each suggestion.
None of us grow in a vacuum; we need feedback, we need editing. Letting someone else in on the drafting of your novel will only do it good. And sometimes, that new person is a different version of you!
Most people take around a year to write an entire book. Some do it in months, others in decades – each route is fine and has their own merits. But chances are, you’re going to grow and change and experience a lot during that time.
Embrace this and use your new skills on your book. Follow that crazy storyline, try out that new idea, dare to write higher.
Abandoning what no longer serves – yes, even if you love it
It can be so hard to get rid of that lovely character, that amazing plot device, that witty piece of dialogue… but not everything is going to come along with your manuscript on its developmental journey.
Much like a toddler, your MS is naturally going to grow out of that cute pair of shoes, that adorable shirt. We wouldn’t try to jam the shoes on their feet because it’d be a bad fit, so why leave old plotlines and outdated dialogue in your manuscript? Readers will notice the disruption in the narrative voice.
Just remember, you can always come back to the character, perhaps make them the star of their own story. You can always recycle the banter, or learn from it to create a new, more relevant version of the conversation.
By removing these outdated components of your story, you get closer to the core of the narrative while tightening the MS considerably.
Embracing the deeper understanding of your world
With each draft comes elements of the story that you’re already very well acquainted with. You’re no longer trying to come up with the name of the renounced heir to the throne, or designing your magic system, or trying to create an entire theology from scratch. Instead, your writing brain has time to start exploring the whys and hows.
It’s easier to develop a side character’s backstory when you’ve already given them a name and some dialogue; winding back to them and giving them a family, some goals, and some grievances is yet another important layer that can be applied during the redrafting process.
Magic systems and their implications on culture and civilisation are better explored in the second round sometimes. Politics and religion are the same. We spend so much designing the technical side of our story that we don’t indulge in the consequences.
However, a ton of fantasy stories rely on the magic and politics having a crucial impact on the main plot, so some amazing authors will know everything about everything right off the bat. On that note…
It’s okay not to know everything right away
Writing is daunting, and I know a lot of potentially good writers who got stuck in the planning stages. “I can’t start until I know what dietary requirements the archduke has!” or something along those lines.
You. Don’t. Have. To. Know. Everything.
A first draft is an opportunity for you to explore the world you want to write in. This one is just for you — to go exploring, be a tourist in your own mind, and experiment with some world-building. And you don’t have to know every crucial little piece! Plough on through and trust that your brain juices will concoct something by the time you come back around.
You will, too. Your story lives in the back of your mind — always. It’ll grow and evolve by itself, to the point where you can’t wait to open your document and update it with that cool piece of backstory you just made up while waiting for the customer in front of you to find their rewards card. Tiers of religious organisations, exotic spice trade politics will form themselves while you stare at a Powerpoint presentation.
Your book will become almost a living thing, and like living things, will grow. With input from (fabulous) beta readers, editors, critique partners, writing groups, and you (as your skills and understanding of your world expand), your manuscript will evolve into something you never could’ve dreamt when you began.
Embrace the redrafting process; it’s going to be awesome. Have fun!
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Renee April is the author of the young adult fantasy novel, Her Crown of Fire. In addition to being an avid reader and writer, she streams games badly on Twitch and acts as dungeon master for her D&D group.
As a result, she spends far too much time in fantasy realms.
She can be found on various writing sites such as Wattpad and Goodreads, but usually lurks on Twitter to hand out bad advice and genuine sympathies.
Her Crown of Fire
In the dull, everyday world, seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore struggles to plan beyond her final year of high school. But when fire suddenly obeys her every command and her dreams predict the future, she becomes hungry for more of this strange power.
Under her dreams’ guidance, Rose lands in the fantasy realm of Lotheria–with a tagalong.
Tyson, her best friend since childhood, winds up there with her, just as confused and a hell of a lot more vulnerable.
In Lotheria, Rose is welcomed and celebrated as a fire mage at the Academy, while the very un-magical Tyson is forced into hiding under threat of death from the headmasters of Rose’s new school.
As Rose’s talent in fire magic draws unwanted attention and Tyson struggles to transition from high school student to blacksmith, Rose must find a way to return Tyson to their own world before the headmasters discover and execute him–no matter the cost.
This post was written by a guest writer. Please check out their details above.