Sucky First Draft

I had something to say. I had my idea. Next, I had to find out if I knew how to write. And the verdict came in as . . . a resounding ‘no’! The main thread read like it was written by a high school student. The characters were indiscriminate blobs. But the worst of it was the subplot. The subplot followed the Shroud of Turin at critical moments of its history. One thing I learned is that writing historical fiction is hard. There’s much truth to the cliche ‘write what you know,’ and did not know close to enough about the cities of Edessa and Constantinople from 60 – 1300 AD. But before I began doing intense research on them, I realized that the subplot was not closely related to the story, but was more of a project to show how it’s plausible that the Shroud of Turin made it from Jerusalem to France over the course of 1300 years. That is not a project for a novel like mine, but for a purely historical novel, or a non-fiction book like Ian Wilson’s ‘The Shroud of Turin’.

After I wrote the first draft, I tried to read ‘The DaVinci Code’. I kind of wanted to follow that formula a little, even though I don’t like those kinds of books, because that seemed to be the best formula for what I wanted to say in my book. But, I wanted to wait until after the first draft so that I wouldn’t be copying it too closely. I find the idea of ‘The DaVinci Code’ a bit despicable, because while no historian takes it seriously, Dan Brown implies in interviews that he believes it, which if he does, he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid. That being said, I hear a lot of people, and not only people opposed to the idea of ‘The DaVinci Code’, accuse the book of being poorly written. As a new author who just finished a sucky first draft, I strongly disagreed. In fact, it was so much better than what I had done that I was leaning toward the opinion that writing a novel wasn’t for me.

Around this time someone I knew had written a book and I listened in on her telling someone else about her marketing plan for the book. I started to think about her marketing plan in the context of my unwritten mess, and the fire for my novel started to rekindle, pun intended. I went back to my book and decided that one thing I needed to do was learn who my characters were. To do that, I would do some free writing about their backstories, and then it hit me. The answer to both problems was the same. I would yank out the Shroud of Turin history chapters, and replace them with chapters about my characters in the past, which would not only help me and the reader learn who they were, but would intertwine with the present day plot thread and set up the action there. The format would be like the show ‘LOST’, except that the flashbacks would be more directly tied into the main plot.

I think it worked. I know it worked much better than the first draft mess. This second draft was where I did most of the heavy lifting. For each flashback chapter, I had to come up with a dramatic set piece that worked in itself and pushed the plot ahead and revealed key information. While I think it worked, it was still missing something, which I’ll write about in my next post about later drafts.

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