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One of the challenges of writing is learning to accept a badly written first draft.  There are so many sources out there to tell people what good writing is that when you produce writing that’s “bad” in any way, it’s easy to lose motivation, despite the number of people out there who also claim good writing doesn’t usually show up in the first draft anyway.

Since most the “writing advice” people give out is easier to follow when you’re in the revision stages, I’m going to give a list of “writing advice” in the form of revision advice.

1. Bring mid-draft discoveries forward to flavor the story.  Often when I’m writing a first draft, I’ll write something like, “Back when/before we were at the beginning of the story, character A (we’ll call him Johnny) was thinking such and such,” or “Johnny had done such and such.”  That information could, and should, show up much earlier in the story in some form or another, in the form of a hint at the very least, but it isn’t there because I didn’t know it before.  So, one of the first tasks of re-writing is to go back and add it in.

2. Line up events to give a character strong motivation.  The first draft is a good time for getting a rough idea of what happens during a story, but the second draft is a good time to determine in what order it happens and why. It first drafts, character motivations are often weak, that is, non dramatic.  It’s not that it’s unrealistic to write something like, “After considering the options more carefully, Johnny thought it best to switch from plan 1 to plan 2.”  This kind of decision happens in real life all the time.  However, it’s much more dramatic to say, “After a attempt to follow plan 1 resulted in a colossal failure (for example, major social embarrassment, someone else’s death, or increasingly bad relations with the school principle), Johnny attempted plan 2.”

3. Replace telling with showing.  In a first draft, it’s completely acceptable to state any fact you like outright.  Sometimes we think that “good” writers never tell things, ever, but that’s not true.  It’s just that when it comes to “showing” verses “telling” the process of reading is opposite the process of writing.  J. K. Rowling didn’t start of writing down a bunch of random events like “Harry Potter sleeps in a cupboard with spiders…his family tries to leave him with the neighbor rather than take him anywhere fun…his uncle complains about him constantly,” and then suddenly come to the conclusion: “Ahh, I guess his family doesn’t treat him very well.”  That’s how we discover that fact as readers, but not how she thought it up.  For a writer, telling comes first, then showing, so a first draft should actually be full of telling.  The second draft is for putting new information you discovered into “showing” format.

4. Figure out who your characters are.  Now that you know what you’re characters do, you’ll probably have a better idea of what people they need to be from the very beginning of the story.  Flesh out their descriptions to show how they’re different from each other.

5. Add snippets of description to give your world substance.  Go through the scenes and ask yourself, what else is going on while this action is taking place?  What kind of details (colors, smells, sounds) will your character notice?

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