One thing that you should always remember is that your first draft of each fiction will always be the stinkiest piece of cheese you ever typed, penned, penciled, chiseled into stone, smoke signaled, or whatever medium you use for writing. We’re talking full on Camembert cheese: sour, foul, and nothing short of sweaty shoes left to rot in the darkest, wettest cavern on Earth.
In this guide, I’ll give you some ideas and show you what I did with one of my recent stories to turn it from pungent, thirty year old rotten food to something at least somewhat aromatic.
One of the stories I published at the beginning of my career was authored after a very long hiatus from writing. Originally named The Tale of Pumpkin Town, it weighed in at a sweet 1,500 words and told a story that was dry and almost as bad as the prose. I didn’t know this at the time, and after sending it in after only one draft, I got a rejection that was warranted and very eye opening. So I set off to rewrite the story.
The first thing I did was open a new document and the old document, put them next to each other, and set off to rewrite it line-by-line. While staring at the starting paragraph, I noticed that it was good, but certainly not as good as I had originally thought:
“Every town has its secrets, and Pumpkin Town was no exception. Had Mike known what dark secrets and unraveled truths were waiting for him, he would have driven straight through.
After reading it (and after banging my head against my desk for writing such a nasty opening graph), I tried to figure out what I needed. I soon realized that part of the problem was the story line and the other part was disgusting prose. So I took an hour to rewrite the entire plot into a short paragraph, and then used that to create a new beginning for the story:
“A dark place in the confines of the human mind provides dangerous thoughts. While people assume this is the darkest place of all, the reality born from these thoughts prove to be far darker. Even though Mike had known this to be true, he was destined to witness it first-hand.”
Smacking your reader in the face and telling them to read the rest or suffer death is a good way to start a story, especially when dealing in suspense, thriller, or horror. When you’ve done that, you can move on to your pretty descriptions showing a whole new world to you readers.
So I continued, and about half way through, I didn’t like the storyline anymore. This weak-sauce story was good for a teenager, but I write for adults. There’s no way someone could read it and not think it was ripped directly from an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark.”
Original Synopsis: A man drives into a town called Pumpkin Town. He stops at the local hotel, goes to his room, and falls asleep. He wakes up outside, bound by rope, and eventually the guy running the hotel feeds him to the award winning pumpkin, which literally has all the facial features of a jack-o-lantern. Blood, guts, and more blood. Bad.
It was simple, but not good enough for me. So took the old one and twisted, snapped, crushed, took a nap, and then finished with a new, deeper plot.
New Synopsis: Mike stops off at the town, and talks to the fidgety old man who runs the hotel. He goes to his room, and because he’s parched, he drinks the oddly flavored bottled water provided by the town’s own bottling plant. Something strange happens to his body and he passes out on the floor. He sees some horrific stuff happen in his dream, meets a woman, and then wakes up in a cold sweat still barely able to move. He eventually leaves the hotel in search of food attributing his attack on low blood sugar.
Inside he sees a blond woman (the same one from his dream?) who mysteriously disappears from the diner. He shrugs it off, and after dinner goes for a walk. He takes the long way home, sees the bottling plant, gets curiously closer, and sees that his car is impounded behind a fence. He goes to get a closer look to see if it truly is HIS car, he has another attack, and another dream. The dream isn’t so much horror this time; instead it’s trying to tell him something. He wakes up bound and inside the bottling plant.
He escapes from his handcuffs, and investigates. He learns the town is feeding the souls of people to a giant pumpkin by using a strange machine, and they use the water from the bottling plant to prepare their victims for “consumption”. When he is captured again and put in the machine, he finds a locket inside with a picture of the woman from his dreams. She was killed, but never really left. He escapes, and drives away determined to tell anyone who will listen that people are being killed in Pumpkin Town.
Finally, I went back and rewrote all but the first paragraph. In the old story I spent more time telling than showing, so I was determined to get a good mix of the two worlds, and arrived at a good new first draft that I thoroughly enjoyed writing.
After what seemed like 30 drafts of each page, I thickened it to a healthy 6,000 words. I added more character development, added new story (obviously), showed you everything that I wanted you to see, and told you about things that weren’t terribly important but had to be added. I was satisfied with the end-result, and glad that I spent many hours reworking it instead of just rewriting quickly and throwing it back at the wolves. If you do that, you’ll likely end up getting eaten first before they bite what you have to offer.
A good rule that you’ll want to follow is you should go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll know I have a lot of respect for Koontz’s writing. He produces a lot of quality writing, and while some of it boils down to years of perfecting talent, he also spends a large amount of time meticulously revising each paragraph. This is something that benefits all authors of fiction. You always want to find that perfect adjective, verb, or whatever to beautify and magnify your story.
The last thing you want to do is always ask yourself questions. Look at your writing as though you were the reader. At first you’ll want to read through your finished story and find out what exactly you’re missing. Is the characters decision consistent with his personality? Does this location fit the description of city you named fourteen pages ago? Is there anything to gain from this paragraph or does it lead the character somewhere? I know it can be hard to be outside yourself, but it’s a skill that will pay for itself later. Once you learn it, you will start doing it as you write, which will make your revise time much more enjoyable and far less lengthy.
As always, have fun writing. Take care, and I hope you have an amazing time!