Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft

by Fay Lamb

In my writing life and both as a freelance editor and an acquisition editor, I have discovered a disturbing trend among some new and not-so-new writers.

Self-publishing is not a bad thing if the author does it correctly. However, there is a generation of authors who have grown up without accountability for what they create. Some sit down at a computer, plunk out one draft of a story, and head off to publication. There are also some who send their first draft to a publisher. When they receive a rejection, the fault belongs to a “system.” They use that excuse to self-publish.

Say what you want about traditional publishers, but in most instances, they truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing. Granted, there are authors who have studied the craft inside and out and write great manuscripts. Yet they can’t find a home in traditional publishing. The rejection has less to do with a lack of diligence on the author’s part and more to do with publishers’ trends. Those diligent authors who take the time to craft a story find new life in self-publishing by bucking those trends.

A first draft is never an author’s best friend. All it says to an author is, “I’ve taken the story from Point A to Point Z, and I have some bones to build upon.” The next draft, or drafts, however many it takes, puts flesh on those bones.

I’d like to share some very obvious clues that indicate to readers and to publishers that an author has not gotten beyond the first draft stage before submitting or publishing:

  • The author has not taken the time to get a command over the small stuff: spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency in names, hair color, eye color, even the spelling of key locations. Editors see these mistakes as lazy writing. If an author isn’t keen on these areas, finding an editor, or even a critique group that can offer this support, is imperative.
  • The manuscript usually consists only of bones, taking the form of stilted dialogue. Description and deep point of view (POV) are lacking or lax. A story that engages uses effective dialogue to relay information without the reader knowing the information is being fed to them. Deep POV is the best tool to draw the reader into the story and connect them with the main characters.
  • Speaking of point of view: in a first draft, even the most prolific authors will inadvertently switch POVs within the scene. Revisions will correct this mistake. However, an omniscient point of view is a sign that an author has not studied the elements of fiction. POV should always be one character per scene, and the character with the most to win or to lose should always be the POV character for that scene.
  • Often in a first draft, the plot will lack escalating conflict. Instead, an author utilizes contrived conflict, bringing it in and resolving it quickly before introducing another issue. One reason a synopsis is requested by publishers is to determine how well an author introduces and sustains conflict. If conflict is weak or non-existent, the story isn’t ready for publication.
  • Then there’s that old but relevant cliché: show don’t tell. A first draft is littered with telling words or phrases that draw the reader away from the story. This is easily seen in the use of adverbial time phrases such as suddenly and immediately or when she turned … Other telling words have to do with the senses: she heard, he saw, he noticed, he realized, and a host of other similar actions that tell rather than show.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a first draft or even a second draft will produce a story ready for publication. Take time to revise and edit, to look for the minor mistakes and to implement the elements of fiction that put flesh on those shaky bones and build up a healthy story that readers can enjoy.


Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following short paragraph, utilizing some of the points discussed above to create a second draft:

Paula heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Immediately, she turned and peered out the window. What she saw terrified her.


Click to Tweet: “In most instances, traditional publishers truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing.” Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb.

Who’s Driving the Story?

by Fay Lamb

As the Tactical Editor, I use the analogy of a car to describe the elements of fiction. So, when I saw this topic, I couldn’t resist writing about it.

For me, it’s not just the “who” driving the story but the “what.”

In my car analogy, I explain that plot is the vehicle that drives the story. Without a main plot, the author isn’t going anywhere at all. The road upon which the plot vehicle travels is the genre. So, of course, the plot vehicle must be equipped for the journey with devices like suspense or mystery, full-on terror, or maybe a scenic route with bumps in the road. The main plot drives the road from Point A to Point Z. Minor plots are all intersecting roads, but make no mistake, all intersecting roads lead to Point Z.

Conflict is the fuel for the vehicle. If the plot vehicle isn’t filled with the proper fuel, the story is going to sputter and halt, and the readers are going to get out and walk away. Conflict must build in each scene until its resolution at the end of the story. A reader must, therefore, measure the amount of fuel necessary to reach the end of the journey, taking into account those scenes in which more conflict—or fuel—is needed.

Then there are the actual drivers. These are each character with a point of view (POV)—one POV per scene and in most stories, no more than three POVs per book. A character takes the wheel for the scenes that belong to him or to her and moves the story forward as the conflict puts up roadblocks to prevent the character from reaching the desired destination.

When the journey has been reached and the conflict has been emptied from the tank, the characters will get out of the journey and start a well-earned vacation.


Writing Prompt: Start a story, using the photograph above. Remember that the vehicle drives the story. The driver is the POV character. Why is the car parked in that location? Who was driving it? What happened to them?


Click to Tweet: “If the plot vehicle isn’t filled with the proper fuel, the story is going to sputter and halt, and the readers are going to get out and walk away.” Who’s Driving the Story? Via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb #amwriting #MondayMotivation

Time to Write with Fay & Jennifer

Finding time to write is our topic of conversation this month and today’s guests are author Fay Lamb, and author and Inspired Prompt co-founder, Jennifer Hallmark.

Fay Lamb

The art of time management has always been a plague for me because I always have five or six balls in the air, and sitting down for an extended period of time has never been my style—except when writing. Yet I still struggle with consistent word count. On occasion, I have been able to pound out my word count for about two days in a row.

Many writers preach that the only way to get the job done is to firmly place the derriere on a chair, hands on a computer or holding a pen, and pounding out an exact number of words per day. Hemingway did it. He even managed to stop daily at a place he found exciting, the act giving him something to look forward to each day. As a seat of the pants author, I want to find out what’s going to happen. No stopping for me. Robert Benson pens exactly 600 words per day. No more. No less. I write more than 600 words in a Facebook post in ten minutes. Too easy.

Nothing in life is more enjoyable to me than writing. My mind takes a vacation into its own little world, and I’d love to declare that I write 1,500 words every single day. Even though the goal is clearly a pipe dream, I still hold to the illusion that I need to get those words accomplished, because it creates an urgent need for me to get busy, especially as the days without a word count rack up. When I finally sit down, derriere firmly placed in chair, hands on keyboard, I churn out at least 1,500 words, but most days, the count is a 6,000 to 10,000 word vacation.


Fay Lamb is the only daughter of a rebel genius father and a hard-working, tow-the-line mom. She is not only a fifth-generation Floridian, she has lived her life in Titusville, where her grandmother was born in 1899.
Since an early age, storytelling has been Fay’s greatest desire. She seeks to create memorable characters that touch her readers’ heart. She says of her writing, “If I can’t laugh or cry at the words written on the pages of my manuscript, the story is not ready for the reader.” Fay writes in various genres, including romance, romantic suspense, and contemporary fiction.


Jennifer Hallmark

Finding time to write? Wow. You’ve come to the wrong person. Well, maybe not. I can dial in my analytical side at any time it seems and make time to produce articles, blog posts, anything concerning the business/non-fiction side of writing.

Fiction is more of a struggle. When I’m working out of the creative side, I need focus. Peace. No distractions. Time which, around my home, is hard to find during this season of my life.

I’ve learned two things that help when I just can’t find the time:

  • Write away from home. I never thought I could write at a coffee shop or at a bookstore but low and behold, with home being a bit chaotic, I can. I seem to be able to dial out strangers and crowd noises better than the familiar sounds at my house.
  • I turn to handwriting. I often use the notebook by my bed to write out a scene or even a thought that might go in a book. Sometimes I’m riding in the car, at the doctor’s office, or even at church when inspiration strikes and I find a sticky note and jot it down. Writing like this always translates into time well-spent.

Find out what works for you. Guard your writing time well even if you don’t have deadlines and one day you probably will. 😊


Jennifer Hallmark  

I love writing, reading, and learning. 🙂

But I am so much more: Wife, Mother, Mamaw, friend and family to many,  cookie baker, LOTR marathon watcher, greeting card sender, church bulletin maker, day trip with Hubby and friends taker, snowman and Golden Age of Detective book collector.

Welcome to my world!


[Click to Tweet] “Hemingway…even managed to stop daily at a place he found exciting, the act giving him something to look forward to each day.”–Fay Lamb @FayLamb via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #AskAuthor #Schedule

FUN Writing Prompt! Schedule five minutes by setting an alarm on your phone (or other timing device). Write everything that pops into your mind until the alarm stops you. GO! (Have Fun!) Extra: If you wrote something especially funny or interesting, share it in the comments. We love hearing from our readers.

Genre Month: What Makes Romance Suspenseful?

By Fay Lamb

There are elements that go into every great romantic suspense:

An Introduction of a Likeable Hero and Heroine

A romantic suspense is first and foremost a romance. So, the same rule applies when in comes to the introduction of a hero and heroine. While most rules can be broken by those who are intimate with them, generally the reader must meet the hero and heroine by the end of the first chapter or no later than the second. If possible, the couple should also meet within that time frame. These main characters must be likeable. Otherwise, forget the villain. Your readers will want to kill them for you.

Bolster the hero and heroine with personalities that will make the reader want the couple together. In Frozen Notes, the hero and heroine are in vastly different places, but they are both facing traumatic events: one a murder-suicide that leaves the character shocked and filled with grief. The other is an accidental overdose that makes the character want to live. The hero and heroine know each other. In fact, the hero’s long-ago actions caused both horrific events. Because both are facing an uphill battle that started with the demise of their relationship, the reader’s want these two together.

A Conflict Fueled Plot Driven by a Troublesome Villain (or Two)

Conflict is the fuel that drives a story forward. Without fuel, the story won’t even sputter and die. In a romantic suspense, this fuel is often what drives the couple’s separation, keeping them apart.

The conflict in the main plot of a suspense novel must be the villain (person or thing) that will bring danger to the hero and heroine. The villain’s actions may be toward only one member of the dynamic duo, but at some point in the plot, the villain must be a threat to both the hero and heroine. The conflict he or she brings to the story must build as the story moves forward.

In Frozen Notes, there is more than one villain, but all want what the heroine has hid from everyone. Yet, the heroine has only one of the items sought—the item that can hurt someone she loves. The hero has been entrusted with information that can bring all the villains down. The chapters build with the reader being made privy to new information—new twists in the story—with each scene building on the conflict.

 

 Pacing: the Right Speed in the Right Scene

I’m often asked the difference between a thriller and suspense. The difference is the pacing. Generally, a thriller moves quickly. The author uses short, clipped sentences or other techniques to develop a sense of urgency to the scenes, which amp up to a fast pace with a lot of action. The action might build to a point where the reader is clinging to the seat waiting to see what’s going to happen next. The key to this type of writing is to keep the characters in motion, fighting against conflict.

A writer of suspense, though, must develop the skill that allows them to recognize when to slow the pace of the story in order to draw out the tension of a scene.

In Frozen Notes both techniques are used. In a scene where a shot rings out and a bullet hits the outside of the heroine’s home in close proximity to her head, you can be assured that time of the essence. The action moves quickly. Later, though, when a villain is holding the hero captive and he sees a way to get the gun out of the villain’s hands, the action is slowed. Each movement scrutinized, drawing out the scene for the reader. That’s the Alfred Hitchcock style of suspense, and when done correctly it works on the page just as it does on the screen. A student of romantic suspense will study these scenes to make sure that the pacing used is just right.

Oh, and no writer ever wants to hurry the romantic kiss. The key is to turn the slow pace of the suspenseful moment into one the reader wants to see occur rather than one the reader wants the character to avoid.

And last, we have our …

Happy-Ever After Ending

Spoiler alert: in Frozen Notes the hero and heroine have a happy-ever-after ending. I don’t mind telling you that because while the sweet kiss, lover’s embrace, or a poignant moment is nice, it usually comes at the end of the story. The heart of a romantic suspense—the part that an author wants the reader to remember—is the journey that got them to that moment.

So, find that lovable hero and heroine, put them into conflict with a villain or two, and amp up or draw out the suspense to take the reader on an adventure they will never forget. Give the hero and heroine a happy ending, and let the villain get what he or she deserves.

Click to tweet: A Month of Genre. Romantic Suspense post by Fay Lamb. “A writer of suspense, though, must develop the skill that allows them to recognize when to slow the pace of the story in order to draw out the tension of a scene.” #Suspense #amwriting


Frozen Notes

Lyric Carter’s dreams of fame and fortune in a rock band ended the day Balaam Carter left to pursue their dreams without her. When Balaam’s brother promised to love and protect Lyric and to love her son, Cade—his brother, Balaam’s child—as his own, she believed him. But Braedon turned her dreams into a nightmare by killing Balaam’s best friend, turning the gun on himself, and placing Lyric in the middle of a criminal investigation that could leave her and Cade dead. Balaam Carter’s every dream has come true, but he’s living in a nightmare of addiction and regret. The famous rock star would give everything he has to return to the girl he once held in his arms—back when his only crime was running moonshine for his father.

Now, he’s seeking redemption for all the destruction his dreams have brought to the people he loves. No one said the road to recovery would be easy, but Balaam is also desperate to protect Lyric and the little boy he left behind from a state full of drug lords who believe Lyric has the evidence that will tumble their lucrative cartels. Balaam’s continued sobriety, his natural ability for finding his way out of trouble, and his prayers to God above for the strength to never let them down again are all that he has to protect Lyric and his son. And still, he doesn’t know if he’s up for the task.

Coming in April: Delilah

How an Author Inspired Me

Throughout the month of May, our contributors will be sharing their inspirational stories of times when an author inspired them. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile and a word of encouragement. Other times, it may be a recommendation, or a good review. In some way, the author offered encouragement to keep writing, keep trying for an open door into the publishing realm.

For the most part, I’ve found authors to be very helpful and giving. They know how hard it is to write and have your work pored over by readers, editors, and agents. Sometimes the whole process seems to chip away at your confidence. For some reason, I had a sudden vision of a pigeon atop a statue. You know what pigeons do to statues. Yes, sometimes, it is very like that.

Especially when you send a portion of your work through an online critique loop. It’s like hitting send and launching a piece of your heart into the great void. Will it make the journey? Will it be torn apart by frenzied critiquers? Will they laugh uproariously, though it’s not a funny manuscript?

Several years back, a very hopeful younger version of myself joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), took the preparatory course on critiquing, then joined the huge online critique loop. I had a completed historical manuscript to send through chapter-by-chapter, and I was ready to begin my journey. I composed my first email, attached my first chapter, and hit send with a trembling index finger.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I got a couple of crits. One was very helpful and nice, though there were a lot of suggestions. A LOT.  The second one was from a dear lady who must have been “up there” in age, because she said she remembered those days (the 1920s). She went on to say that no young lady would ever put on a pair of dungarees (which my character had done before climbing out a window and down a tree). I had a photograph of my grandma in a pair of dungarees. The picture was taken in 1924, the year I had chosen to begin my story.

She said a lot of other things, like how she laughed uproariously at some of my mistakes, and maybe I should do a more thorough research before I sent the rest of the story through. Of course, I was greatly offended. After crying over it for a while, I put it away. When enough time had passed, I compared her assessment with the few other critiques I received, and made some changes. I also made changes to the second chapter and sent it through, only to receive another scathing review from that dear lady.

I know you’re wondering why I’m writing about this in an article about authors who inspire other authors. Well, I’m getting to that. After having my feelings completely trounced several times, I contacted the critique group coordinator. That was my first interaction with Fay Lamb. She assured me this was not the typical critique, and I shouldn’t take it personally. She also suggested I not read anymore offerings from this person, and in the meantime, she would contact the lady and make a few suggestions of her own.

Not only that, but Fay Lamb read my chapters and was very helpful. She was kind, but honest. I needed to up my game. I did that, and she encouraged me to keep moving forward. She also encouraged me to leave the big loop and opt for a smaller group, instead. I worked with one or two other writers for a while, then joined a second small group.

When my first book made it through the critique process, I looked for an editor I could pay to help me whip it into shape. I knew Fay was working as a freelance editor, so I hired her. She held my hand through the process, and we ended up with a completed novel.

Then she suggested I send it to a small press publisher. A little over a year later, the book was published by Write Integrity Press.

I might have given up along the way, except for Fay’s encouragement. “You’re a good writer. Keep working on it.” Her example kept me moving forward through some very dark times. I wanted to quit. She wouldn’t let me.

Betty & Fay

Fay and I became friends and discovered we had so much in common, it was uncanny. In fact, we’ve found so many weird connections, we may possibly be twins separated at birth. We finally met in person at a Christian writers conference in Atlanta. You’ll find her name on the acknowledgment page of most of my published novels.

I am not the only writer she has helped. I know many others can tell similar stories with Fay Lamb as the star. Well, except for being her twin. That may be unique.

Thank you, Fay, for being there for me, and helping me through the tough times—the inevitable deep lows that come to all who profess to be writers.


Writing Prompt: [Finish this thought with a complete sentence:] The most helpful suggestion ever made to me by another author is…

Click to Tweet: Sometimes the whole (writing) process seems to chip away at your confidence. I’ve found #authors to be very helpful and giving. They know how hard it is to write and have your work pored over by readers, editors, and agents.