For someone writing their first novel, it may be the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Maybe that’s why so many new writers feel justified in publishing without doing any further work. Surely, all that effort must be worth something, and having completed the project is proof that you are, indeed, a writer — an author.
But the truth is that when you’ve written the last word, the easy part is over and it’s time for the hard work. Even after having written and published three novels, I know that’s still true. It does get easier as you hone your editing skills and your ability to keep your eye on both the big picture and the tiny details — the forest and the trees. Easier, yes. But I’m not sure it ever becomes easy. Maybe it does for those who write formula genre fiction, but even they have to work hard to get to that point.
Revising a novel that I wrote almost three years ago, when I didn’t know squat about writing novels, is an ongoing learning experience. It’s frustrating, boring, exciting, inspiring. It was a “I’m going to do this, come hell or high water” project, and it has every flaw that a beginning novelist could possibly be guilty of. It’s a measure of how much I’ve learned since I wrote it, and proof that certain aspects of writing may never become anything like easy.
Many posts ago, I wrote about discovering that one of the book’s most important characters fitted the description of the stereotypical evil scientist. Well, the guy is evil and there’s nothing I can do to change that. What the first draft failed to do is explain how he came to be evil. Of course, I didn’t know him very well back then. Now I know what characteristics gave him the potential, right from the start, to do evil deeds if the right circumstances came along. His acts are both logical, and deeply irrational, but it’s possible to understand the contradiction. He’s still evil, even insane, but we can understand how all that came to be. And we can rejoice when he gets what’s coming to him.
Then there are a couple of minor characters who disappear and then reappear later on, becoming somewhat more important. Because of their role, it’s important to know where they’ve been all the time they were offstage. They can’t just pop back up like a jack in the box. Their role made it clear that they should have cleared out and done their best never to be found. In the chapter I’m working on now, they do pop back up, and that has to be corrected, which means that I have to fit in some back story.
The novel is full of problems like that: plot holes, continuity, weak characterization, switches in POV, too much telling instead of showing. And then there are the problems that a lot of writers don’t deal with at all, like awkward sentence structure, poor vocabulary choices, over or under-attribution. unrealistic dialogue. What’s really frustrating is that, even with something like a half million words under my belt, I can see a problem, and spend days banging my head against the wall before I can figure out the solution. Maybe another half million words will make it easier. Maybe.