From Proto-novel to Novel

Writing is work.

Many years ago, I sat down to write an epic fantasy. The first words out of my fingers were, “We encamped that night at Garion Dawnsbrook.” In the following months I pumped out a massive tale of epic proportions that culminated in the literal end of that world, but a few survivors making it through to start a new world.

You will never read that novel.

You see, what came out was indeed epic. It had a lot of good qualities in it. The story introduced a world with a unique take on fantasy tropes. It held a number of great characters. The plot was relatively solid.

But for all that, it was a proto-novel. There were… a lot of flaws.

Now, the proto-novel I’d written was already a lot of work. I’d already poured in hours and hours at the keyboard. I’d brainstormed with my wife. In fact, she’s the one who came up with the ending that tied all the various plot threads together. Finishing that manuscript was definitely worth being proud of!

Alas, that was just the beginning.

You see, I needed to turn that proto-novel into a novel. And that meant looking at what worked and make it better. It meant taking a look at what didn’t work, and either get rid of it or change it so it did work. Notice that at this point we’re not polishing. We’re still making sure the form is good. We’re talking big-picture stuff!

Between that proto-movel and a novel that could be polished we…

  • Dropped the first fifty pages
  • Changed the gender of two main characters
  • Added another main character entirely
  • Deleted numerous secondary characters
  • Added a character arc for the main character

Now in future weeks, I plan to take a closer look at least some of those to talk about the how of identifying problems with manuscripts and what to do if that problem exists. I’m no expert – see also: first novel coming out in May, not twenty-seventh novel coming out in May – but it’s something I’ve done, so it’s something I can speak toward.

Today, though, I just want to focus on this truth: Turning a first draft to something worthy of publication… it takes work. It takes a lot of work. It takes analysis of what’s there on a big-picture level. Not every manuscript will require the absolute load of work this one took. I really hope you don’t have to edit out the opening fifty pages of your work. That said, it’s worth the time to analyze and improve that first draft.

So if you get an entire proto-novel written: well done. Seriously. That’s a lot of work.

Now… get to work taking that promising piece of fiction into something even better!

Published by Jon

Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.)

2 thoughts on “From Proto-novel to Novel

  1. Great advice! From the first ‘good draft’ of my first book to final, I cut over 30,000 words, deleted a whole chunka first chapter, added scenes, deleted scenes…
    It’s a blessing your wife is along for the ride. Having extra eyes on a huge project makes it all so much better!


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