(And to those people who haven’t heard of NaNo, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November – see the website for more info.)
So what do you do now that NaNo is finished? Do you rush out a bunch of query letters to every agent you can think of?
The quick answer to that is no, please don’t!
But why not? You have a finished book, after all....
Well, no, you don’t actually. What you have is a first draft. Again, congrats on this! You have the bare bones of a story and hopefully a voicey main character to tell this story to your readers.
What you need to do now is edit this NaNo novel to get it ready for submission to agents and/or publishers. Below are a few ideas of how best to tackle a NaNo edit. Everyone edits differently, but I hope these will give you a starting point.
- Set the manuscript aside for a month and do something else. Maybe work on another manuscript, or write some short stories, or just get ready for Christmas with too much shopping and eating! You’ve just spent the whole of November with your novel characters and been totally absorbed in their world. For a better and more subjective edit, you need fresh eyes. Step away from the manuscript!
- When you return to the book, look at doing a structural edit first. Often when you write a first draft, you don’t tie up all the plot holes and you skip over scenes you need. Are there parts that just don’t make sense or questions about how the character got from point A to point B? Does the overarching plot work?
- One trick to test this out is to see if you can boil your plot down to one line. Can you write a short and exciting query letter for it? If not then it might be worth looking at any complicated sub-plots and stripping them back.
- Also, look at your main character’s arc. What do they want? What’s preventing them from achieving those goals? And what are the stakes if they don’t achieve them? Do they react consistently to situations and if not, is it because of a believable change in their personality?
- Revise your opening. You didn’t know your main character as well at the start of your book as you did by the end so your opening can often be the weakest part of your book. Read the last 30 pages and then immediately revise the opening. I promise this will make for a more confident opening.
- Think about your secondary characters. Are they are fully formed 3-D characters with backstories and plot arcs of their own? In a first draft you don’t always flesh out the secondary characters, but during the edit you have time to develop them further.
- Does each chapter move the plot along? Sometimes it can be helpful to type up a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, just a line about what actually happens in each chapter. This is a handy way to see if certain chapters can be cut entirely. Looking at this will also help with your pacing and seeing where the highs and lows of the manuscript fall.
- World-building is something that is often missed in a first draft. It’s easy to focus on characters and dialogue when writing a first draft, but when you revise, think about your world. What does it look like? What are the rules? Little things like writing a calendar – especially if your character is at school – will help. For example, on Fridays your characters say they are always in gym, but one Friday, you have them in English. Even a contemporary novel needs world-building.
It’s hard to edit your own work with fresh eyes, even if you take a break from it. So maybe find a critique partner or maybe a critique group. Another group of fellow NaNo winners might be fun. They will be able to help you spot the plot inconsistencies and any problems with the world or characters.
And once you’re happy with your structure, characters, world-building and pace, then you need to look at the manuscript with your line editing hat on – things like showing emotions, not telling them; mixing up your sentence structure, use of adverbs and dialogue tags, watching for repetitive writer’s ticks and similes etc.
What I’m ultimately saying is: Please don’t query your NaNo novel until it’s ready. Why the rush? You’ve done an amazing thing by writing a first draft in a month. Don’t do your characters a disservice and send them into the world until they’re ready.