Carole McDonnell
Essayist, Reviewer, Novelist

Samples of My Writing:
Resources for Writers

How many times should I rewrite?

First Draft: Write to discover the story. Write everything that comes to your mind. Don't try to make it right the first time. What you're doing now is writing and discovering.

Second Draft: Now that you have discovered what your story is about and what your people are really like rewrite the draft with this knowledge. Check backstory, foreshadowings. Is there a lot of info-dumping. Can you change the info-dump summaries into dramatic scenes that shed light on present characters and events? Watch out for maid and butler type of conversations where characters tell each other what they probably already know. Is there a character who is not being fully-utilized? Remember, there is really no such thing as a minor character. If you've spent the time to create a character, he better serve some useful purpose and he better have a life of his own. Is there a character who does nothing? Then there is the "missing character" -- someone needed to balance or counter-balance an aspect of the story. Is everyone necessary to the story in the story?

Third Draft: Rewrite to place your characters in the landscape and architecture of your world. Check for conversations that seem to take place in the middle of nowhere. This is where you make your book a feast for the reader's eyes, ears, nose, taste, senses, touch.

Fourth Draft: Check for Show-not-tell. Have you allowed your characters -and the readers with them-- to live through the story? Check for POV issues. Remember, the author generally knows only what's going on in the main character's head. Everything else must be shown objectively. Not, "Billie was angry." But "Billie glared at her."

Fifth Draft: Rewrite to kill your beauties. This is a tough rewrite because you have to be really cold to those sections of the novel that might be useless to the story. If your story needs these passages but the prose is too purple, try making them less prosaic. Meaning and content are more important than confusing and pretty nonsense. Check for redundancy. Have you said the same thing way too many times? Did any of this reiteration advance the plot? Or did it merely add pages? Do you trust your readers? Describe what you need to describe. Do it once.

Sixth Draft: Put the novel aside for at least three weeks and work on something else. This might be a good time to study the market -other books out there- and agents and publishers. Start writing a query letter and synopsis. Give the first twenty-five pages to several friends who understand the genre and ask for their input. What do they think the main themes, plot-strands, sub-plots are? Go to the bookstore and buy several books in that genre. One of them should be a bestselling book. Give scattered chapters to other well-meaning friends. Tell your friends they are free to write their comments and suggestions on the manuscript. Keep a list of all their suggestions. Don't tell them what the book is about. Let them tell you. Ask them what their favorite scenes were? Don't touch your novel or send out any queries until you've received comments back from your friends. Many books would be sold easier if writers didn't rush themselves. When you return to the novel, check for Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sense, homonyms and format. Gather your friends' suggestions. Check for holes. Is there some point, action, motivation you thought was clear but now in your re-reading you find to be confusing? Have you left out some details? Is there a weakness in the plot and characterization? Are you consistent or inconsistent? How is the dialogue? Do two characters have similar ways of speaking? As for grammar and punctuation: are there awkward phrases? Bad sentence structure? Have you used the same word more than once in one paragraph?

Seventh Draft: Print out the novel. It must be printed out. The writer must read the novel as if s/he were a regular reader. If there are no errors, put this copy on a shelf. This is your own hard copy. When sending out future copies, print from computer. But the truth of the matter is that there will probably be many errors. You will probably find homonyms and typos. Send out query letters to agents and publishers. Prepare manuscript to each publications' requirements.

Storytelling is my most elegant use of my neurosis.

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