NaNoWriMo: Now What?
You've finished your NaNoWriMo novel in a month, but what's next?
The simple answer to this question is to wait. The Roman poet Horace was known to wait nine years before beginning the process of revision. That's a little long in my opinion, but the idea of waiting is helpful. You need to wait long enough so you are able to critically approach your NaNoWriMo novel and make the tough decisions that are required to perform effective manuscript editing. Some writers don't like the process of revision, but successful writers know the first draft is really just about telling a story; the second draft is about writing a novel.
Before continuing, an important distinction must be made between revising and editing. Editing is concerned with the technical aspects of language. Revising is concerned with issues bigger than just the simple mechanics of language. When revising your National Novel Writing Month novel, you should be concerned with the larger issues: the focus, the theme, and the purpose. Think about your audience during this process. This will help you determine whether the tone of your work is appropriate and, if it isn't, how to alter your NaNoWriMo novel so it is.
Begin with the plot
When revising, writers frequently find it helpful to begin with the plot. Is the plot interesting? Is there a conflict? Where does the story start? Does the plot follow a classic story arc? Is there a strong opening and escalating tension that inevitably leads to a climax and resolution? Is there a discernable time line? Is the plot in your NaNoWriMo novel believable? You may have to make some difficult choices here. Problems with plot often require the most extensive re-writes. You may have to start your story at another scene or you may have to rewrite your ending. You may even have to add or delete scenes and characters.
Fill in this sentence: My NaNoWriMo novel is about _________. If you can't explain what your novel is about in one sentence, you might want to examine whether you actually have a theme. Keep in mind that theme does not mean plot points; theme is what your manuscript is about. Your NaNoWriMo novel can be about anything: love, life, death, revenge, or friendship. The possibilities are endless. Once you've established the theme, the whole process of revising becomes much easier because you are able to determine what belongs thematically and what doesn't.
The Latin term for "know thyself" is "nosce te ipsum," and while it usually refers to personal introspection, the phrase is applicable to revision. In order to revise your NaNoWriMo novel effectively, you should know your own writing well enough that you are able to anticipate problems. For example, in my writing, one thing I need to look out for is that my characters are always looking at someone or something:
Steve glanced around the pub, "I don't see her."
"I haven't seen her all night," Matt answered, looking into his waning pint.
His reflection stared back at him.
Steve watched his friend. He appeared to be sad. "Well, we should really look for her."
One of my writing mentors was kind enough to point this out to me and for this I am eternally grateful. The best way to find out what your little linguistic ticks are is to join a writer's group, have a writer in your community review your manuscript, or try our manuscript critique service.
Pay particular attention to your protagonist. Are their characteristics and actions well-developed? Have you created believable characters? How do they change in the story? Remember that your NaNoWriMo novel should resolve in one of of two ways; the protagonist will either change for the good or they will change for the worse. A story in which the protagonist doesn't change is a pretty boring story. Another point to consider is whether there are forgotten characters in your novel. If you have two or three really interesting characters that appear only once and are quickly forgotten, consider the possibility of combining these characters into one really compelling secondary character.
You know those NaNoWriMo tips to writing a book we shared to help you reach 50,000 words? Well, it's time to get rid of that extra padding. Do a quick search, using your word processor's find feature, for the following words: just, really, very, and suddenly. These words are almost always unnecessary and are simply used as padding. Also, try to eliminate dialogue tags (he said/she said). If there are only two people speaking, there is rarely a need to include them.
Make sure your green-eyed heroine with black hair doesn’t squint her sky blue eyes, while brushing hay coloured hair from her face. This may sound silly, but continuity errors are some of the most common we encounter when editing fiction. The physical characteristics of characters or the landscape often change for no apparent reason. A technique to deal with this is to use a notebook to track all these details; so whenever you come to a description, flip to that section of the notebook and skim to ensure you are maintaining consistency.
In your NaNoWriMo novel, imagery is important. Imagery engages the reader's senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). It also helps convey a sense of place, tone, and theme, if done properly. However, imagery is one of the most common avenues for clichés to inadvertently make their way into your manuscript. Also, when describing imagery, there is a tendency towards "purple prose," which is when the author uses overly extravagant, flowery language. Keep the descriptions in your novel simple, concise, and unique.
Another aspect of your novel that you may have to revise is dialogue. A simple technique is to read the dialogue out loud. This technique allows you to pay attention to the rhythm of the dialogue and make appropriate changes. You want the dialogue in your NaNoWriMo novel to be natural and believable.
Once your revisions are complete, it is time to edit. Some people have no patience for editing their manuscript. By the time the third or fourth revision is complete, your NaNoWriMo novel is probably the last thing you want to read. Once you've reached the stage where all you are concerned with is ensuring all your commas are where they are supposed to be, consider submitting your novel to our manuscript editors. We're the Oompa-Loompas of creative writing. While you dream and write, we are obsessed with the little details of writing. So why not put us to work editing your masterpiece?