Deepen Your Story with Character Misdirection

Hi everyone. Once again K.M. Weiland has brought ideas for those of us writing and learning the craft. This blog offers many valuable insights.


Deepen Your Story With Character Misdirection

Top 10 Writing Posts of 2016In childhood, stories are always about exactly what they appear: “See Spot. See Spot run.” But as we grow older and our life experiences deepen, so do our story experiences. What emerges is often a complex weave of subtext and misdirection. Life isn’t always as we perceive it on its surface—and even when it is, half the time, we miss what’s right in front of our noses anyway. Our stories should reflect that, and one of the best tools for achieving this effect is character misdirection.

What is character misdirection?

 Simply: this is when the protagonist (and the readers) believe another character fulfills one role when, in fact, he fulfills exactly the opposite. The great John Truby calls these characters “Fake-Opponent Allies” and “Fake-Ally Opponents.” I prefer simply “False Enemies” and “False Allies.”
In short, these are characters who are not what they seem. They provide rich opportunities for dichotomy, juxtaposition, insights into the protagonist, insights into the theme, plot revelations, and plot twists. They’re both incredibly useful and incredibly fun to work with.

The 4 Variations of Character Misdirection

Character misdirection can be broken down into four variations on the False Enemy/Ally.

1. The False Ally

This is a character who pretends to be on the protagonist’s side—when really, she’s not. Even as she seems to support the protagonist’s goals, she is privately working toward her own ends, which are in opposition to the protagonist’s.

For Example:

The False Ally might be a mole or a spy, planted in the hero’s camp by the main antagonist.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Edmund and the White Witch

Character Misdirection Example: Edmund Pevensie starts out C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by luring his siblings to the White Witch, in exchange for “sweeties.”

The False Ally might be someone who despises the protagonist and his goals, but who feels the best way to undermine him is by masquerading under the guise of friendship.

Miss Havisham Gillian Anderson Great Expectations

Character Misdirection Example: Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is believed by the protagonist Pip to be his great friend and benefactor, when she is, in fact, working to symbolically destroy him in vengeance for having been jilted by her fiancé many years past.

The False Ally might be someone who has no actual ill will for the protagonist, but whose goals are so diametrically opposed to the protagonist’s welfare that her well-meaning advice is incredibly misleading and destructive for the protagonist.

Tyler Durden is the impact character in Fight Club.

Character Misdirection Example: Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club seems to be the protagonist’s friend, but as the story progresses, the protagonist slowly begins to realize that “Tyler” has been working his own agenda from the beginning.

The False Ally might be someone who truly believes himself to be aligned with the protagonist, before his own goals and desires pull him away.

Willoughby Marianne Sense and Sensibility

Character Misdirection Example: Willoughby in Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility was believed by the Dashwood women to be their friend, and indeed Willoughby himself seems to have felt the same—but his true nature eventually betrays them when he abandons Marianne without explanation.

The False Ally often aligns with Dramatica’s Contagonist archetype, which stands in opposition to the Mentor/Guardian, in that she appears to be on the protagonist’s side while subtly luring him away from his Truth—and his victory in the conflict.

2. The False Enemy

Just the opposite of the above, the False Enemy is a character who appears to be opposed to the protagonist, but is, in fact, on the protagonist’s side, in part or in whole. The protagonist doesn’t trust him, either because he suspects the character is an enemy or because the character has outright presented himself as such. But as the story progresses, the facts just don’t quite stack up, and it becomes clear the true obstacle is the protagonist’s distrust of this character standing in the way of their working together toward a common goal.

For Example:

The False Enemy might be a double agent, someone who appears to be working for the enemy, but is, in fact, in the employ of the good guys all along.

Character Misdirection Example: In Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the protagonist Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes has been brainwashed into serving Hydra’s evil ends, but even though he obstructs Cap’s goals until the very end, he ultimately reverts to his true role of ally.

The False Enemy might be someone who fulfills a stereotypical “bad” role, prejudicing the protagonist against her, even as this character works toward the protagonist’s ultimate good.

Character Misdirection Example: Magwitch, in Great Expectations, plays the reverse role to Miss Havisham’s. His role as a brutal escaped convict convinces the protagonist Pip he is evil, when, in fact, Magwitch turns out to have been his benefactor all along.

Character Misdirection Example: Magwitch, in Great Expectations, plays the reverse role to Miss Havisham’s. His reputation as a brutal escaped convict convinces the protagonist Pip he is evil, when, in fact, Magwitch turns out to have been his benefactor all along.

The False Enemy might be someone who is not “for” the protagonist, but who is working against the antagonist, so that his goals at least momentarily align with the protagonist’s, in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of twist.

Pam Landy Bourne Ultimatum Joan Allen

Character Misdirection Example: In Bourne Ultimatum, CIA chief Pam Landy becomes Bourne’s unofficial ally in an attempt to bring down the corruption at the heart of the CIA’s covert black ops.

3. The False Ally Turned True Ally

Creating Character Arcs

This is where things can get tricky. Sometimes characters who aren’t what they seem turn out to be exactly what they seem! The False Ally who becomes a true ally is a fun character because of the inherent character arc involved. Although this character starts out opposed to the protagonist, her exposure to the protagonist inspires change within her life to the point that her goals and motivations can entirely shift.

Anatomy of Story John TrubyIn Anatomy of Story, Truby says this character is…

…valuable because he is inherently complex. This character often goes under a fascinating change in the course of the story. By pretending to be an ally of the hero, the fake-ally opponent starts to feel like an ally. So he becomes torn by a dilemma.

For Example:

Sometimes the character will resolve his inner dilemma and turn away completely from the opposition to become a true ally.

Night Angel Trilogy Brent Weeks

Character Misdirection Example: In Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy, the protagonist Kylar’s opposing assassin apprentice Viridiana falls in love with him and eventually comes over to his side completely.

Sometimes the character will fail to completely resolve his internal dilemma. Torn between loyalties, he may fail to wholly satisfy either, or may reluctantly swerve back to his original alignment with the opposition.

Casino Royale Vesper Lynd Eva Green

Character Misdirection Example: Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale is essentially a double agent who comes to despise her original loyalties, only to be sucked irrevocably—and lethally—back into them.

4. The False Enemy Turned True Enemy

Finally, we have characters who masquerade as enemies only to end by creating genuine obstacles between the protagonist and her goals. These characters are rarer, since they present the least amount of conflict and complexity. The protagonist generally dislikes them from the start, which means there isn’t much in the way of angst when these characters really do betray her. Still, they can create an interesting subplot of personal turmoil as they sort through their own loyalties.

For Example:

This character might be one who is an avowed triple agent from the start: a spy for the bad guys who also spies for the good guys but whose true loyalty really does lie with the bad guys (is your head spinning yet?).

Supernatural Ruby and Sam

Character Misdirection Example: Ruby in Supernatural shifts alignment within the plotline multiple times: she goes from enemy to distrusted ally/False Enemy, before finally revealing her alignment as a true enemy.

This character might also be one whose loyalties are conflicted from the beginning. He has a foot in each camp, genuinely caring for the protagonist even though the protagonist doesn’t know it—but ultimately not caring enough to do right by the protagonist.

Secondhand Lions Kyra Sedgwick Haley Joel Osment

Character Misdirection Example: In Secondhand Lions, the protagonist’s selfish mother is presented an antagonist from the beginning. Even though she loves her son and has a few short glimmers of trying to be a good mother, she ultimately cannot overcome her own self-centered needs enough to care for him—forcing a final confrontation between them in the Climax.

These latter two categories can get confusing fast. It’s best to concentrate on the first two categories—straightforward False Allies and False Enemies—but also to realize they don’t always have to be straightforward.
5 Ways to Use Character Misdirection in Your Story

Have you been able to identify any False Allies or Enemies in your story—or perhaps just the potential for their use? If so, here’s where you get down to business and start using character misdirection to improve your story. Start by concentrating on these five angles:

1. To Create Conflict

Ultimately, the true and best use of character misdirection is to serve the heart of your plot: to create conflict. The joy of stories about mistaken identities is the havoc caused by the characters’ misconceptions. When your protagonist is drawing false assumptions about another character, he will be unable to fully grapple with the true conflict.

For Example:

False Allies create conflict by misdirecting the protagonist away from the true fight, while secretly working against him.

False Enemies create conflict by (willing or unwillingly) drawing the protagonist into opposition against them, while the true conflict happens elsewhere.

2. To Create Layers of Complexity

One of the most delicious things about character misdirection is its ability to create complexity and nuance within the story. Instead of black and white good guys and bad guys, you’re able to present readers with characters of subtlety and subtext. Whose side are they really on? What is their true moral alignment? What shades of gray influence their convictions? The possibilities for thematic explorations and consequences are vast, as false characters are able to influence your protagonist in first one way and then another by commenting on both sides of the thematic premise.

For Example:

False Allies create complexity by winning the protagonist’s heart while sowing seeds of the Lie and luring the character away from her Truth.

False Enemies create complexity by first hardening the protagonist’s heart against the Truth they’re trying to share, then winning her over to reconciliation and a keener understanding of the true thematic premise.

3. To Challenge the Protagonist’s Beliefs and Complacency

When the characters around the protagonist fail to fit neatly into boxes, according to the protagonist’s initial world view, you open the door to all kinds of personal catalysts within the protagonist’s character arc. False Allies and Enemies will challenge the protagonist’s established views of the world. Just like Pip in Great Expectations, sometimes the people we believe to be good turn out to be bad, and vice versa.

For Example:

False Allies challenge the protagonist’s beliefs by creating a dichotomy between their seductive words and their dark actions in opposition to the protagonist’s goals.

False Enemies challenge the protagonist’s beliefs by disproving his prejudices and leading him to believe Truth can be found even in unexpected places.

4. To Turn the Plot

The revelations that arise from character misdirection can be wonderful plot catalysts. When the protagonist discovers the false characters’ true nature, the plot and its conflict necessarily advance by leaps and bounds.

For Example:

False Allies turn the plot by forcing the protagonist to recognize he’s been betrayed—or perhaps even lured into betraying himself.

False Enemies turn the plot by forcing the protagonist to make up for the ground he lost by ignoring good advice—or perhaps by having to save his newly-realized ally whom he he just betrayed.
5. To Create Suspense and Plot Twists

Write Like the Masters William CaneThe old “is he good or bad?” question that hangs over the heads of most false characters has the ability to create untold suspense. Readers will race through your pages, wondering if your protagonist is about get stabbed in the back. As William Cane points out in Write Like the Masters:

You can use the same Dickensian mystery story technique in your own work by purposefully withholding crucial information, such as who a friend (or enemy) of your hero really is.

The revelation of the truth often makes for some of the best and most moving opportunities for effective plot twists.

For Example:

False Allies create suspense by casting doubt upon themselves and making readers wonder if they can really be trusted around the protagonist.

False Enemies create suspense in exactly the same way before eventually dispelling that doubt instead of fulfilling it.

Character misdirection is a delightful game authors get to play within the pages of their stories. Who’s good? Who’s bad? We don’t know! That sense of curiosity will entrance readers, raise the stakes, and keep them reading right to the very end.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you used character misdirection by including any false enemies or allies in your story? Tell me in the comments!

That’s it for 2016. See you next year. Happy writing or holidays.      Glennis

Merry Christmas to you all

As I send my Christmas message to you, I thank you for being interested in my journey as a first time published author. You have followed my posts on face book and twitter, and some of you have checked out my two websites.

How amazing! I am truly humbled by your interest.

This year has taught me so much about the art/craft of writing. I’ve stumbled at times. And because of my encouragers, (you) I have got back to the keyboard and begun again.

The release of The Fortune Seekers – Dan and Charlotte has been an amazing experience. Can you imagine how it felt to open the first book after it arrived from the publisher. Perhaps it felt like you felt when you read a signed copy from a friend- me. Such a new experience.

Thank you to those who posted reviews on Amazon and Xlibris. And also those of you who sent me your review by email. Most of you loved the story and cant wait for the second of the serried. Some of you discovered the many errors in the book – grammatical, length, etc. I am listenning and learning. Presently attempting a re edit so the next printing will be better. This will happen in 2017, after which the second novel will be completed.

Today I discovered that The Fortune is not only on Xlibris, BarnesandNoble,, and but also available on Amazon UK, Amazon Japan, and Amazon EU. How it got there I don’t know. Possibnly due to Xlibris my publisher and marketer.

Below are some new reviews I discovered tonight. From strangers.

Bragging over – Now it’s time to send my Christmas wishes on their way. 

May you 

enjoy your family and friends, 

love, share and give, 

and continue to be a blessing to others.

Have a blessed Christmas

Glennis xx

Cliffhangers for Novelists—Tips to Use Them Effectively

Cliffhangers for Novelists—Tips to Use Them EffectivelyThanks to by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted for posting this blog.  

It was a fast read. I couldn’t put it down.”

Nothing rings sweeter to an author’s heart than these words. The moment a reader becomes so invested in a story that nothing is more important than reading to the end – It’s monumental!

We call these page turners “cliffhangers” – remember “who shot J. R.?” The 1980s season cliffhanger for Dallas kicked off a new era for television. More so, it kept watchers drooling to know what happened next, assuring Dallas a knockout for the next season’s opener.

There are different schools of thought on the subject of cliffhangers, but for me… I love them and I practice them at the end of most chapters of a novel. Why? It’s a challenge for me as a writer and a ring-in-the-nose for my reader that allows me to clip on the rope and continue to pull them deeper into the story.

Some authors insist cliffhangers are unnecessary if you write a compelling story, but a compelling story should be filled with exhilaration and “take-your-breath realizations” that drive your reader into a deeper investment in the characters. Carefully placed cliffhangers are the icing on an already compelling story.

The question is, exactly what is a cliffhanger and how do you insert them into your chapter without leaving a cheesy taste for your reader? First off, a cliffhanger is not always something earth shattering. In fact, the most effective cliffhangers come when the author leaves the reader holding on to a character’s thought or motivation. It’s the “what if” factor or ratcheting up the tension—something unexpected happens… or fails to happen, a new thought or change of thought process.

Practical Application

For example, your character makes a decision: Owen knew the answer. He held the key in his hand all along… talk to Ericka. Just talk to Ericka.

With a cliffhanger like this at the end of a chapter, the reader suddenly experiences the same “ahhh” moment as the character, wetting their desire to know what follows the decision to talk to Ericka.

Perhaps it’s a moment when the character realizes something important.

Example: I flipped open the worn pages of his Bible and pressed my finger against the words. I had my proof. My vindication right in the lines of the Good Book. An eye for an eye. “How’s this Daddy? An eye for an eye . . .”

A good cliffhanger acts as a lure. It proves to be just as valuable as the opening hook in paragraph one of the first chapter. Sometimes the perfect cliffhanger is a simple statement from a character that reinforces the chapter’s tension.

For example: There was nothing left to say. When the gavel hit the desk, guilty rang through the courtroom.

Beware of overuse.

Beware of Overuse

Equally as important as utilizing a cliffhanger is knowing not to overuse them. Remember, when your reader is deeply invested in your story, their heart races, they wiggle in their chair with the intensity of the scene so there are times, very important times, that you give the reader the opportunity for a breath. Let them relax for a second.

I loved the television show 24. But after two seasons, I began to say, “Just how many more times can Jack Bauer save the world?” Instead of my interest growing stronger, I began to feel like there was no end to the dire situations that the nation faced. I was tired and frustrated when the show ended. And poor Jack Bauer, how could the man ever rest? This was the result of never allowing the watcher to experience a moment of hope. Angst is wonderful, but too much… gives your reader ulcers.

As you place cliffhangers at the end of chapters, carefully assess the intensity of the chapters prior and post. Ask yourself the question, “Can my reader take a breath?” If not—give them one. As much as we love drama and action, we need to experience some hope and peace. These strategically placed sentences, enrich your readers experience.

Bottom Line

In a conference class under the late Ron Benrey, he shared his thoughts on the importance of a good cliffhanger. “A good story… a really good story, piques every sense and emotion of the reader, not once, but over and over. Carefully placed cliffhangers bring the story to life. It’s like the character reaches from the pages of the book, takes the reader by the wrist and yanks them into a fictional bubble which refuses to let them escape. This, and this alone, gives the reader an experience they long for.”

As you study your chapters, carefully assess how you can apply a good solid cliffhanger. Decide what type of emotion you need to tweak and then jump on it. Learn to make your readers hunger for the next page and give them the pleasure. When they purchase your book, read it, and close the cover, they should have received reading experience they deserve. Your best hope as a writer, is an email that asks you for “more.” When that happens—it’s a win-win for you and for the reader. 

TWEETABLE.    Cliffhangers for #novelists – tips to use them effectively by @CindyDevoted 

Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right

This weeks blog is really appropriate to me, being in the process of re editing may novel. From some readers reports the first part is too long – and slow. Therefore this information is useful to me – maybe you as well.

Thanks for your blog Paula Munier.

Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start RightPosted on November 28, 2016 by Paula Munier 

Today’s post is an excerpt adapted from A Writer’s Guide to Beginnings by Paula Munier (@PaulaSMunier), recently released from Writer’s Digest Books.

There are a number of tricks to making sure that you get your story off to a hot, hotter, hottest start, no matter what your genre. I know, I know, all of you people out there who are writing literary fiction are thinking, “I don’t need a hot start to my story.” Well, think again. Even beginnings for literary stories must aim for, at minimum, a slow burn.

I live in the Northeast, where winters can be brutal. (As I’m writing this, New York City is digging out of some two feet of snow.) When I moved here a dozen years ago after nearly twenty years in balmy California, I learned that the secret to staying warm as the thermometer plunges is to keep the fires burning on all fronts. I discovered the cozy beauty of cashmere sweaters, fingerless gloves, and glowing woodstoves.

But I also learned that sometimes you have to break down and leave the house. Go begin a journey, even if it’s only to the grocery store—which means venturing out into sub-zero temperatures to a frigid vehicle that may or may not start. It was a cold prospect I dreaded, until I happened upon two spectacular tools: remote car starters and heated car seats.

With a remote car starter, you can start your car from inside your warm house, wait until your automobile is revved up and ready to go, and then slip into a warm seat in a warm vehicle with a warm engine and hit the road. This is a beautiful thing.
You want to do the same thing with your story. Every reader starts a story cold, and you want to warm the reader up to your story as quickly as possible. You want the reader to slip into a warm seat in a hot story with a blazing beginning and take off for parts known only to you, the writer.

The good news: There are literary equivalents to remote car starters and heated car seats. Let’s take a look at these, one by one.

Start With the Scene That Introduces Your Story Idea

This is the easiest and most efficient way to get your story off to its hottest start. So if it’s at all possible to begin this way, you should, just as Peter Benchley did in the first scene of his classic horror novel, Jaws. Yes, the terrifying film was based on the equally terrifying New York Times bestseller by Benchley. The details of the novel’s opening scene and the film’s opening scene differ—the couple in the book are a man and a woman sharing a beach house rather than a couple of teenagers at a beach party—but the action is the same: The woman goes for her last swim in the sea while her drunken companion passes out. And there we have it, the big story idea of Jaws: a monster great white shark terrorizes a seaside resort town.

Start With the Scene That Foreshadows the Story Idea

If you believe that it is not possible to start your story by introducing the story idea, then you can do the next best thing: Start with a scene that foreshadows the story idea. For our purposes, a foreshadowing is an opening scene that prefigures your story idea.

The most famous example of this might be the opening of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the three witches appear as a bad omen, especially for Macbeth. Many fairy tales begin this way as well. In Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, a king and queen who’d waited years for a child celebrate their new baby princess’s christening with a celebration. They invite the seven fairies of the kingdom to the feast. But an eighth fairy shows up, one long thought dead, and she curses the baby. This is the scene that foreshadows the day when, years later, the princess pricks her finger and falls into a long sleep … and, well, you know the rest.

To use a more contemporary example, consider the tender and funny New York Times bestseller The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. In the opening scene, thirty-one-year-old book saleswoman Amelia Loman is stepping off the ferry to Alice Island, on her way to her first meeting with A.J. Fikry, owner of Island Books. She takes a call from Boyd, her latest “online dating failure,” determined to let him down gently, only he’s insulting, apologetic, and finally, weepy. Finally, she tells him that it would never work out because he’s “not much of a reader.” She hangs up and remembers her mother’s warning that “novels have ruined Amelia for real men.” And as she nearly walks right past the purple Victorian cottage that is Island Books, Amelia worries that her mother might be right.

In this scene, the foreshadowing is subtle but clear: Amelia needs a man who reads, and she’s about to meet one who may seem unsuitable in nearly every other way save that one … but still, the possibility for romance is there.

Start With the Scene That Sets Up the Story Idea

We’ve seen this one a million times. Think of the opening scene of the original Star Wars, in which Princess Leia hides the plans for the Death Star in R2-D2, setting up the story idea.

In Jeannette Walls’s shattering memoir The Glass Castle, she opens with a scene that begins with the unforgettable line, “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.” She goes on to describe this encounter with her mother, setting up the rest of the novel, which tells the unsettling story of her harrowing childhood, beginning at the age of three.

Beware of Too Much, Too Soon

Even when you’ve got an opening scene that either sets up, foreshadows, or introduces your big story idea, that scene can still fail to capture the reader’s attention. One of the main reasons so many opening scenes fail is because the writer tries to tell too much about the story too soon.

Tell is the critical word here. The writer is telling—rather than showing—us the story. Many scenes are overburdened with backstory, description, and the characters’ inner monologue, which leaves little room for the action that should be driving the story forward.

Remember: What the readers need to know to read the story is not what you needed to know to write it. Because the beginning is usually the first part of the story that you commit to paper, you are just getting to know your characters, setting, plot, and themes. You’re exploring your characters’ voices and histories, your setting’s idiosyncrasies, your plot’s twists and turns and detours and dead ends, your themes’ nuances and expressions. You’re thinking on paper, stretching your way into your story, and that stretching is a critical part of the writing process, but just as stretching before you run is paramount, it’s not part of the run itself. It’s preparation.

So you need to go through and trim the parts of your opening that are obscuring the action so you can get to your big story idea sooner. You need to prune back your writing so that the inherent drama of your story idea is highlighted.

If you’re finding it difficult to edit your work, then try this trick. Print out your opening pages, and go through them, marking up the text in different colors to distinguish between backstory, description, and inner monologue.

Backstory: This is wherever you talk about what happened in the past, before the present action of your opening scene began—childhood memories, past relationships, etc. Mark these lines/paragraphs/sections in blue.
Description: These are the lines/paragraphs/sections where you describe your setting, expound on theme, detail backstory, etc. Mark these lines in pink.

Inner monologue: These are the parts where you record your character’s thoughts and feelings. Mark them in yellow, and underline the sections in which your character is alone as well.

I know that you’re tempted to skip this exercise. But don’t. You only have to flip or scroll through it to know where you should edit your opening scene. This is one of the most useful exercises you’ll ever do and the one my students, clients, and writing friends always most applaud me for.
Turn to Page 50

(This was my revelation – at page 50 I’ m only half way through the issues – much to slow to hold the readers’ interest)

For many writers, their story’s warm up lasts about fifty pages (or around the 15,000-word mark).  – ( oh no, that’s me)

What happens on page fifty of your story?

******.  Writers Guide to BeginningsPage fifty is where many stories truly begin. Turn to page fifty in your story, and see what’s happening there. What’s your protagonist up to? How does that relate to your story idea? Don’t be surprised if this is where your story really begins. And don’t be reluctant to toss out those first forty-nine pages of stretching if that’s what it takes to get your run off to a good start.

(With colour pens in hand I’m doing a work on my novel  – expecting to learn some truths along the way.)

See next week, Glennis 

Writing first drafts and after: 7 tips for stronger rewrites

Writing first drafts and after

 – by Now Novel – the easiest way to get your novel done

Writing first drafts of novels is challenging and completing your manuscript is a major achievement. Even so, if you end NaNoWriMo with a manuscript in hand, or you finish a book at your own pace, this is only a first step. 

Read 7 tips for crafting a strong rewrite in the editing and revising process and turn a perfunctory rough draft into a cracking page turner:

1. Make a list of words, phrases and scenes to cut

2. Make sure every part of your first draft contributes to the whole

3. Revise your rough draft to make the 5 W’s of story stronger

4. Get feedback on the cohesion and clarity of your first draft’s scenes

5. Use hindsight to fix incongruous details of plot, setting or character

6. Rest after writing a first draft so you can reread with new eyes

7. Type your novel’s first draft out anew and read aloud
Let’s delve deeper into each of these post-drafting ideas:

1. Make a list of words, phrases and scenes to cut and replace

The purpose of drafting is to get the story down in its most elementary, functional shape. Incidents of plot and characterisation and the basic flow of your story are there. The language isn’t necessarily burnished, though. Perhaps it doesn’t shine – yet.

When your first draft is complete, make a list of words and phrases to cut or substitute. If you have specific adjectives you typically reach for when describing certain characters or types (e.g. ‘beautiful’ for love interests or ‘cruel’ for villains), think of some alternatives that could add variety and specificity to your descriptions.

Words and phrases to substitute or cut:

‘He/she/they said’ – if you can show who is speaking within a scene through other means, keep dialogue tags to a minimum. Make tags carry descriptive weight (e.g. a sulky character could ‘mumble’ rather than merely say their lines). Avoid getting too creative with dialogue tags, though. Let characters’ words themselves convey tone and mood as far as possible.

Wordy phrases – the most compact phrase is often best. Make sure you say. ‘She returned’ rather than ‘she went back’.

Cut the adjectives-plus-weak-adverb combo. Although adverbs such as ‘very’ have their place, they often lesson descriptive ‘oomph’. Instead of saying a character speaks ‘very slowly’, you could use an all-in-one verb, e.g. ‘drawls’. Example sentence: ‘While he drawls at the lectern, she peeps at her watch’.

See the excellent guide Janice Hardy shared with us on cutting words from a manuscript that’s too long. Even if your manuscript is a good length, it should help you tidy your first draft.

Besides individual words and phrases also think about non-essential scenes that could be cut. This means ensuring every scene serves a purpose for the overarching story:

2. Make sure every part of your first draft contributes to the whole

Tom Stoppard quote rewriting and revisionOften a first draft contains scenes that aren’t completely clear in intent. A conversation between characters might circle around a plot point without saying anything particularly useful or telling the reader anything new or edifying. After the first draft, you have the opportunity to modify or remove these scenes that slow down pace and weaken narrative tension.

As you revise your novel’s rough draft, ask yourself for every scene:

Why is it necessary to show the reader this scene?

Does this scene answer a previous question about the events of the story or raise any new ones?

Am I bored?

This third question is important. If you get bored while reading through your draft, it could be that the scene is indeed boring (and not simply because you’ve read it over many times). Two ways to liven up a dull scene are to give a greater sense of purpose and direction through action (‘x’ surprising or dramatic event happens) or dialogue (characters converse on an important or illuminating topic).

If you do feel at all bored while reading through your first draft, strategize how you will strengthen the 5 ‘w’s’ of story and make them more interesting:

3. Revise your rough draft to make the ‘5 W’s’ of story stronger

Many of the greatest stories ever told have this in common: They treat all of the ‘5 W’s’ of story – who, what, why, where and when – with equal care. Charles Dickens’ London, for example, is as much a character as his characters are. In a novel by Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood, characters’ choices and actions unravel sequences of events with all the inevitability of natural law.

As you revise your first draft, keep these 5 elements in mind. Ask yourself:

Is my setting clear? Can you picture where my readers are and does this backdrop contribute to the overall tone and mood?

Are the reasons for story’s events clear? Does the ‘why’ of characters’ actions and choices make sense in light of their motivations, goals and backstories? (We feel confused when characters act ‘out of type’ with no explanation)

Is the ‘what’ of the story clear (are its themes and subjects consistent and developed? For example, in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series he teases out themes of power and corruptibility over the entire series arc)

Is the cast of the story’s characters fitting (do minor characters’ parts add to rather than distract from the main plots and subplots that form the core narrative)?

Does the ‘when’ of the story make sense (is the time setting consistently shown through description and narration? Are the events of the story in the most logical or interesting order or sequence?)

As you reread your manuscript, note in the margin wherever one of these elements needs improving. Keep a list of any necessary fixes to make for each – who (characters), what (subjects and themes), why (reasons or cause and effect), where (setting) and when (time setting and story event sequence).

4. Get feedback on the cohesion and clarity of your first draft’s scenes

Getting from a first draft to a final draft is possible without external insight. Yet having a second (or third) pair of eyes to give you honest feedback often helps you see where clarity and cohesion is lacking.

This is where getting critiques (from your offline or online writing community) is valuable. One of the advantages of online critiques is that you can share your work anonymously if you feel uncomfortable attaching your name to something that is not yet in its finished form.

Often when you’ve finished writing a work of fiction it all makes sense because you’ve lived with the characters and the story’s events. You may have supplied any missing links in your own mind. Another reader who doesn’t have the author’s access, however, might spot gaps and missing explanations you’ve glossed over due to your own deep involvement.

5. Use hindsight to fix incongruous details of plot, setting and character

Susan Sontag quote on first draftsThe advantage of rewriting after you finish writing your first draft (rather than as you go) is that you have the long view of the story, from start to finish. With the sweeping overview this affords, you can take events that occur towards the end of your first draft and weave in their foreshadowing and their origins earlier in the book.

Being able to work backwards and forwards in time like this lets you turn a linear story into something with a more interwoven, complex structure. A good example of this type of storytelling (though not a book) is the TV series Arrested Development. The writers cleverly placed humorous incidents early in the series that only become funny in retrospect, once their significance is revealed by later events. In this way the series rewards re-watching.

Similarly, you can place earlier incidents in your novel’s plot that make new sense or add layers of meaning in light of later events. This deep structure rewards re-reading.

Being able to look back over your whole first draft makes it easier to spot plot developments, setting details or character actions that don’t quite fit with the whole. To truly understand any gaps or inconsistencies, outline your novel after the fact. Create a summary, chapter by chapter, of what you’ve written. Condensing events this way will give you a clearer perspective of your story’s total structure.

6. Rest after writing first drafts so you can re-read with new eyes

It’s vital to rest between completing the first draft of a novel and starting to revise and rewrite. A short break gives the details of your story and your characters time to settle and sink in. The partial forgetting that happens makes it easier to put on an editor’s glasses and think of your story more objectively than when it is still new and recently-formed.

Take a week or two to focus on other projects. At the end of an intense drafting process like NaNoWriMo, you’ll likely need a rest from intense mental activity. Don’t leave the rewriting too long, though. Another way to shake yourself out of a habitual process of reading your draft is to read from end to start or last page to first. This is useful for proofreading, as you’ll focus more on the sentence structure and language and not be distracted by the linear flow of narrative events.

7. Type your novel’s first draft out anew and read aloud

When you rewrite your book’s first draft, actually type your rewrite into a new document. This will help because you won’t simply move around existing text but will think about each line due to the retyping. This might sound time-consuming, but it is an effective way to catch any glaring faults.

Also read aloud often, especially when you rework dialogue. This will help you catch any awkward or clumsy turns of phrase. Small revision and rewriting strategies such as these will make writing first drafts and polishing them a creative and intentional (rather than autopilot) process.

Today I suffered the awful emotion of doubt. 

Negative doubt. _______________________________________Those demoralising feelings of doubt. 

Doubt that I could write. That I could really be an author worthy of publishing.

My first book has been published and the painful doubt has now dawned… should I have published? 


It wasn’t ready as the editing was crap! Hours upon hours of editing ended up showing me up; as a poor writer.

Why do I say this?

Today I began counting the negatives. From those thoughtful people who believe I need to know my writing faults. Who haven’t asked if I really want their opinions. Their negative opinions I mean.

There are those who I know, who have read my novel, but who have said absolutely nothing about it. 

Today I have read that as a negative.

Honestly, why do this? 

Surely some of the silence is – they can’t be bothered talking about the books they read. Or they haven’t even read it. Or their lives are all consuming with more important things than telling me they have read it.
For today one person told me he had read my book. He said he wanted to talk to me about it, with a voice sounding of disapproval. Not looking me in the eye. The ‘higher than thou’ attitude.

What did my mind do? 

Tell myself he hated it; hated my writing style. 

Disagreed with my theology, my interpretation of history. 

Perhaps it is my grammatical errors he wants to talk to me about?
I processed, until I felt the black cloud pass over me. Smothering  my enthusaiam and desire to write. Freezing my creativity.

How rational a response is that ?

What happened to the majority of reviewers who enthusiastically told me they loved it? 

Who can’t wait for the next one. 

Saying,’Keep on writing. I loved to hate the bad guy. Felt for the main female character. Wept at the marriage….’

Those –  the majority, who told me they loved my style of writing. 

Saying, ‘Don’t change anything.’ 

Who didn’t even notice the punctuation marks incorrectly positioned. 

Didn’t see the lack of verbs. 

Loved the large space between lines, paragraphs. Which made reading easy, especially for elderly eyes.  


Some were short. Some were longer –  ‘Loved it. It flowed naturally. The first part wasn’t slow for them…’
It’s these readers I am really writing for

Those who genuinely like what I am attempting to do. 

As for the self appointed editors –

 – do they read to enjoy the story?

 – or to correct the author? 

            Am I writing for them? 

            No! Definitely not.


Tonight I have decided I will continue writing for my ravers. I love them as they love my uniqueness. They enjoy my ability to tell a story; my way. I love this feeling of being appreciated. I love being an author for those who love my work. 

As for the negative reviewers?

Grammar police –

 I love them as well, but in a different way. I will love them when I ask them to help me editing my second novel. And they agree to help. As this is when their abilities to edit and correct are needed. Yes, I need them. This is when I need those who critique.

Tonight I read my favourite blogging author’s weekly letter.

 Once again she has reassured me of the great writing I am doing. 

 – My ability to pace well. 

 – Have easy on the eye white  spacing in my manuscript. 

 – And more. Thank you Mary Carroll Moore. 

I invite you to enjoy Mary’s blog below. 

May it help you in your writing as her blogs help me. It’s a continual process of learning the craft. 


Paragraph and Line Lengths–How They Affect Your Story’s Pacing 

 by Mary Carroll Moore.

I never paid much attention to paragraph or sentence lengths. I just wrote, felt satisfied if I got the story down. Then, in the late eighties, I got a job as a editor at a publishing company in the Midwest.  
As an editor, I noticed that I had a visual reaction to a person’s writing: how it looked on the page, how dense or light. How much white space or how much text. Even before I began to read, I had a sense of whether I would be engaged, just by how the text looked.

Blocks of dense text turned me off. I was paid to read them, so I did, of course. But I had to work harder to get engaged.  

I learned about pacing: how fast a story moves for the reader. Pacing is half mechanical. Long or short sentences, big or short words, all affect pacing. Shorter sentences and shorter words usually read faster. Longer sentence require the reader to slow down and work harder.  
Seeing writing from an editor’s eyes–what a change that was. Writing became much more than just telling the story. I began looking at my own writing and changing the sentence and paragraph lengths.  
Whenever I read a piece of writing with same-length paragraphs, I noticed a sleepy feel. Another clue!
A blog reader wrote me about this: “Paragraph [length] must be terribly important because as I read and change them the adventures seem to grow in importance.” She’s absolutely right.  
She wanted me to share any rules I knew about how to work with paragraph lengths. There’s aren’t really rules–it’s a kind of rhythm you begin to catch as you gain in writing and editing skill, but here are a few guidelines I picked up as an editor. See if they are helpful. If so, try one as your writing exercise this week.
Working with Mechanical Pacing 

1. Print your pages and lay them side by side. Squint at them. Notice where you have large blocks of text. Notice the white space. (Thanks to writer Alex Chee for this tip.) This is very hard to see on the computer screen, easy to see in an e-reader or printed out.

2. Go back into your document. Read the dense paragraphs out loud. Look for any natural pauses where you could break them.
3. Break out dialogue. Any place you have dialogue embedded in a paragraph of other text, separate it out.
Here’s an example from a recent class–a before and after so you can see the difference. The writing is still rough, but the paragraph changes made a big difference in pacing.  


Sandy climbed the stairs and felt her belly heave. Pregnancy made her feel like a sea mammal, only she didn’t have the luxury of water to buoy her up. Swimming through the hot Alabama air wasn’t her idea of blissful motherhood. She could hear the phone ringing inside the apartment down the short hallway. It was probably her sister. It had been weeks since she’d promised herself to call Jeannine and get someone to come for a couple of hours in the afternoon, just to help with groceries or laundry. Jeannine’s idea had rankled at first, and Simon wouldn’t hear of it, but her sister said she’d even pay the first few weeks, an early birthday present for Sandy. Sandy didn’t want to buck Simon but as she grabbed the top of the railing at last and pulled herself up to the landing, she promised herself she’d call as soon as she got inside and turned on the a/c.

Sandy climbed the stairs and felt her belly heave. Pregnancy made her feel like a sea mammal, only she didn’t have the luxury of water to buoy her up. Swimming through the hot Alabama air wasn’t her idea of blissful motherhood.  

She could hear the phone ringing inside the apartment down the short hallway. It was probably her sister. 

It had been weeks since she’d promised herself to call Jeannine and get someone to come for a couple of hours in the afternoon, just to help with groceries or laundry. Jeannine’s idea had rankled at first, and Simon wouldn’t hear of it, but her sister said she’d even pay the first few weeks, an early birthday present for Sandy.  

Sandy didn’t want to buck Simon but as she grabbed the top of the railing at last and pulled herself up to the landing, she promised herself she’d call.
As soon as she got inside and turned on the a/c.

Hidden Emotions: How To Tell Readers What Characters Don’t Want To Show
Posted on July 7, 2014 by Angela Ackerman
pensiveOne of the struggles that comes with writing is when a character feels vulnerable and so tries to hide their emotions as a result. Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them. After all, people do this in real life, and so it makes sense that our characters will too. Protecting oneself from feeling exposed is as normal as it gets.

But where does that leave writers who STILL have to show these hidden emotions to the reader (and possibly other characters in the scene)?

The answer is a “TELL”– a subtle, bodily response or micro gesture that a character has little or no control over.

No matter how hard we try, our bodies are emotional mirrors, and can give our true feelings away. We can force hands to unknot, fake nonchalance, smile when we don’t mean it and lie as needed. However, to the trained eye, TELLS will leak through: a rushed voice. An off-pitch laugh. Hands that fiddle and smooth. Self-soothing touches to comfort. Sweating.