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Character, Pacing and Everything Else (First Draft Issues)

I'm slowly getting there with my first draft of my novel (51,227 at present), and for that I'm extremely proud of myself.  This is the first time I have written anything this long and persevered with it.  However, as I continue to write, I know there are massive issues with characters and their arcs, which will need to be worked on in my second draft.  I'm even tempted to change a huge part of my hero, as I don't feel like a part of him is working, especially after recent events in the press.  I also feel that the pacing is all over the place.  I think my issue is that because I have been writing this in short bursts whenever I get the chance, that some things have changed along the way.  Perhaps I should have planned more before I started to write, but I found myself getting impatient and thought my rough plan for each chapter was enough to get me started.  A lot of what I had planned is still in this draft, but there's lots more that came to me as I started to write.  I went with these ideas.  I also still need to do a significant amount of research in order to make certain aspects of the story feel more real and fleshed out.  

I suppose my question is this: can all this be rectified in significant redrafts?  I want to finish it because for me that's a great feat, but part of me feels there are so many things wrong with it right now.  It also doesn't help that I have two new ideas that have sparked my interest.  Two new stories that seem to have more potential (in my opinion right now) than what I'm currently writing.  I don't want to give up on my current story, as I have been working on the idea in some form for over thirteen years, but I don't know what to do instead. 


  • Keep going! You can work on it and improve it later. Once that draft is finished you can put it to one side and look at those new ideas or continue with the first book. 
  • Thanks, BB.  I will persevere.  I'm glad you suggested to keep going, as I would feel everything I have done would have been a huge waste. 
  • edited December 2020
    Agree with Baggy, get the draft finished before you worry about all those things you mention. If you don't, you won't finish it to have anything to rewrite.

    I've learnt that any thoughts which occur to me when I'm writing, or reviewing the previous day's writing- that could be fifty words or one hundred and twenty- I quickly make a brief note of it, and then I get on with the draft. Then I can consider those thoughts and insights on the next draft.
  • What Baggy said. Finish it first, then you've got something to edit. Make notes of all those thoughts for your first edit. My experience is that you will go through many edits before you're satisfied.
    And we'll well done for reaching such a significant word count,
  • I always advocate planning. Character arcs and pacing don't happen by happy accident – they are broad, consistent movements and you have to code them into the overall structure. My advice: stop when you've got as far as you can go with your first draft and then make a diagram that shows all of the chapters at a glance. It could be a piece of lined A4 in which each line represents a chapter. Colour code story threads, character or pace. When you can see large structural movements "aerially," you can see where there are gaps in story, pace arc etc and add more detail to those areas. It a way of seeing your novel's shape from the outside. That's the main issue with working via drafts: you're trapped inside the book as inside a labyrinth. It's the reader's job to be inside the labyrinth, not the writer's. The writer has to create the labyrinth from above.
  • Don't give up! You have the skeleton of the story, and fleshing and dressing can be addressed in subsequent edits. Putting right what you think is wrong is not insurmountable. Just take an issue at a time and work through it methodically. Editing is a bit like washing a stain over and over, then trying out a few chemical solutions until what's left is pristine.

    For my last children's book (yet to make an appearance), as Gerald suggests, I made a chart; this was partway through writing. I used it to denote the days/times of day covered in each chapter, etc so that the passing of time all made sense and was evenly paced. I also noted down what happened to characters when. Colour coding was a great visual cue to spot where gaps were.
    I also used the boxes to write notes/questions to myself and, as these were addressed, I could cross them off.

    My chart was very big!!

    I usually do this on a smaller scale in a notebook where I summarise the content of each chapter under a chapter heading and write notes around my notes. It's much easier to get an overview if you can scale your book down like this. It's virtually impossible to get insight if you try to retain what's in the entire document.

  • I keep a chapter summary on my computer - just a phrase or more reminds me years later what happened.
    Which is just as well - the book I'm working on right now has been in hibernation for SEVEN years!!
  • Thank you all for your wise words.  @GeraldQ I think you hit the nail on the head: I feel like I'm trapped inside the story when I want to see a general overview.  I will do exactly what you and @Tiny Nell have both suggested once I have finished.  
  • Dog lover - Every first draft is rubbish don;t worry about it - get it finished then go back and re-write.
  • Thanks for the advice.  I'm still trying to do a bit of research, as I write.  I received an email off a dairy farmer this morning and still trying to get in touch with a vet.  I want to make my writing as realistic as possible, and with Covid-19, I think emails and phone calls will be the only way I can do any research right now.  
  • Emails are best. Give the person a chance to consider your queries when it's convenient. I've received great help from archivists who are working from home.
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